Heading into the locker room, the Blue Devils hardly looked themselves.
Posting one of their most inefficient shooting nights of the season and facing a halftime deficit against an unremarkable Boston College squad, Duke was facing echoes of past home contests against Georgia Tech and Syracuse.
But even with foul trouble limiting one of their most prolific scorers, the Blue Devils had another option to turn on the offensive pressure.
After a slow first half, No. 2 Duke turned around and took care of business against Boston College 80-55 Tuesday evening at Cameron Indoor Stadium sparked by a 24-point performance from Cam Reddish. Reddish's massive steal and reversal to cut the Eagles' lead to two just before the halftime buzzer set the stage for an incendiary evening from the freshman.
"I just wanted to win," Reddish said. "Coach was going off and after us at halftime, telling us we have to play harder and bring energy. I took that and wanted to get out there and get the win.... We had to get the crowd into it a little bit, get the energy up. I know I can make the shots. My teammates were finding me in open spots and I just focused on making my shots."
Out of the break, Tre Jones—Duke's defensive stalwart at the one—instantly put pressure on Boston College's leading scorer Ky Bowman, forcing the Eagle star point guard into a bad airball. Reddish followed it up with a step-back two to level the score.
R.J. Barrett, who saw limited playing time in the first half due to foul trouble, then made himself known with a massive and-one to get the crowd on its feet, and Reddish set the building rocking with a massive corner three.
From there, it was all Blue Devils (20-2, 8-1 in the ACC), as Duke used an 18-6 run to grab the lead and never look back.
With Reddish, Barrett and Zion Williamson firing on all cylinders, the Blue Devils put their foot on the gas and forced constant contact to limit the Eagles' weapons. Bowman, who avoided getting caught reaching for the first half, notched four fouls in the first 10 minutes of the half thanks in large part to Barrett's constant driving through traffic.
“We can’t be soft, and we have to play like men,” junior captain Jack White said. “We have to be stronger and we can’t expect things to be easy. We need to come out and fight. We did a good job of that. We outscore them by 27 in the second half, and we weren’t ourselves in the first half on both ends. We made some uncharacteristic plays and not hitting shots we usually do. The second half we definitely adjusted and I couldn’t be happier with how the boys responded.”
In the first 20 minutes of play, the Blue Devils looked far from the offensive juggernaut they’ve been all season. Although Barrett and Marques Bolden started Duke off strong, foul trouble on Barrett limited the Blue Devils’ ability to score down the stretch of the half. Coupled with abysmal 3-point shooting—Duke was 1-for-15 beyond the arc at the half—and the Blue Devils’ offense looked anemic against the Eagles (11-10, 2-7). Even Williamson—who posts one of the most efficient scoring pedigrees in the NCAA—couldn’t get many of his shots to fall early, but would finish with 16 points and a season-high 17 rebounds.
The lone bright spot for the Blue Devils in the first half was White and Jones’ pressure on defense. White recorded two blocks in the opening half and Jones held Bowman—the conference’s third-leading scorer behind Williamson and Barrett—to just seven points at the half.
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“Defense is part of our identity as a team,” White said. “One of our big strengths, especially when we’re locked in, especially from how wide we can play with our lateral quickness. Our athleticism means we can lock teams down, which I think we especially showed in the second half. It’s definitely important. We need to have that consistent effort every game no matter what it is.”
Although the Blue Devils earned the win, Duke can’t afford to play sloppy in its upcoming ACC gauntlet. The Blue Devils will face No. 3 Virginia on the road in a top-three rematch of Duke’s 72-70 win at home.
"Ever since we beat St. John’s the only thing you see on ESPN is our game against Virginia," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Nothing was said about this game. All the shows and everything, that's the world these guys live in. I told them, 'Look, we have to play this game.' I don’t know if that was a part of it. We are young team so we can fall prey to that. Thank goodness we didn’t for 40 minutes."