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Duke men's basketball bench struggles to find its footing

<p>Although Jack White started the season hot, the Duke captain has recently fallen into a slump.</p>

Although Jack White started the season hot, the Duke captain has recently fallen into a slump.

The 2017-18 Duke squad struggled mightily with finding consistent production outside its starting five, and not a single reserve averaged more than 4.0 points or 13 minutes per game. But with the same options returning to the team this winter—Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier, Jack White, Alex O’Connell and Jordan Goldwire—this season’s Blue Devils would finally have depth. 

In the preseason, Krzyzewski named White and DeLaurier team captains, and the junior duo greatly exceeded expectations to open the campaign. But then, somewhat inexplicably, the quality of play from White and DeLaurier diminished greatly.

For White, the beginning of the season played out like a fairy tale—the 6-foot-7 do-it-all forward seemed to be the perfect complementary piece to Duke’s standout freshman quartet of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones, and his charming Australian accent and infectious smile endeared him to the hearts of many Blue Devil fans.

On Jan. 5 against Clemson, White had perhaps his strongest performance yet, with a season-high 12 points and four made 3-pointers, to go along with a sheet-stuffing six rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Through Duke’s first 13 games, he exceeded all expectations, with 7.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and more than a block and a steal per game, along with a team-high 41.2 percent conversion rate beyond the arc.

And then, a switch flipped for White, and he began to more closely resemble the fringe rotation player that he was his freshman and sophomore years. Suddenly, the shots stopped falling from deep, and he made just one of his six 3-point attempts against Wake Forest and Florida State Jan. 8 and Jan. 12, respectively. 

The real downturn came in the Blue Devils’ next contest, against Syracuse. With Jones exiting the game early with a shoulder injury, Krzyzewski called upon White to take on his most significant offensive role of the season, playing 42 minutes and hoisting up 10 shots beyond the arc, missing all 10, as Duke fell to the Orange 95-91 in overtime.

Since the Syracuse game, White has lacked confidence, and the captain attempted just 10 shots in the succeeding seven contests. Additionally, the once-prolific shooter has not made a single 3-pointer since the matchup against the Seminoles over a month ago, missing his last 19 attempts.

White’s co-captain has a similar downward trajectory in his 2018-19 campaign. DeLaurier played his way into the starting lineup in December, taking Bolden’s spot at center, and played a key role in the Blue Devils’ success that month, with 7.4 points and 2.0 blocks on a nearly perfect 17-for-19 from the field in their five December wins.

Yet, nearly identically to White, DeLaurier became a shell of himself. As a relative non-factor offensively, the Shipman, Va., native often struggles to make an impact on the court, and Coach K recognized that recently. After playing more than 15 minutes in eight consecutive December and January outings, DeLaurier has not reached the 15-minute plateau since Jan. 12. 

O’Connell similarly is not living up to expectations. After posting an efficient 48.9 percent clip from three last season, his 3-point percentage regressed to a more pedestrian 36.7. Hopes of O’Connell becoming an explosive scorer off the bench remain alive, as the sophomore guard has shown flashes, such as during his 16-point effort against Syracuse.

Surprisingly, the greatest source of recent optimism surrounding Duke’s bench is Jordan Goldwire. The defensive-minded guard is a near zero on the offensive end, as Goldwire puts up just 4.7 points per 100 possessions and sports the worst offensive rating of any Blue Devil. 

However, the 6-foot-2 sophomore played a key role in Duke’s historic comeback against Louisville. Goldwire was on the court for the entirety of the Blue Devils’ late run, and his defensive tenacity, paired with that of starting point guard Jones, gave the Cardinals fits.

With perhaps the strongest starting lineup in college basketball, Duke depends on its reserves less than most other teams. Although the Blue Devil bench struggles at times, should White and DeLaurier return to their early season ways, and O’Connell and Goldwire find ways to make an impact, Duke will finally have the depth to match its talent ceiling, a lethal combination come March.

This is part of our extensive preview coverage for this year's first meeting between Duke and North Carolina. Check out more of our content here, including top games of this season and historically for the Blue Devils, breakdowns of the matchups at every position Wednesday night and our writers' predictions for the game.


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