On Tuesday night, Duke struggled mightily to find an offensive rhythm in Zion Williamson’s absence.
Things changed in major way Saturday afternoon, as the Blue Devils put together one of their more complete offensive performances of the season. In the first half, everything seemed to fall for Duke, and five Blue Devils scored nine or more points.
The stifling offensive attack in the opening period proved to be insurmountable for Miami, which fell to No. 3 Duke 87-57 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The mighty Blue Devils overpowered the Hurricanes out of the gate, and closed the half on an 18-3 run. The standout freshman duo of R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish finished with 19 points apiece.
“I [disagree] with people saying we’re not as good without Zion, or that we need him to come back,” Duke guard Alex O’Connell said. “As much as we want him to come back, we have a lot of talented guys on our team, and are a strong team. I think we showed that today.”
Leading the scoring charge for much of the afternoon was O’Connell, who finished with 11 points on an efficient 5-of-8 from the field.
In a desperate effort to slow the bulldozing Blue Devils, Miami (12-16, 4-12 in the ACC) shifted into a 3-2 zone defense with six minutes remaining in the half. In Duke’s first possession against this zone, Tre Jones found the lethal O’Connell in the right corner, who drained the 3-pointer, extending the Blue Devil advantage to 29-13.
Since head coach Mike Krzyzewski surprisingly inserted the Roswell, Ga., native into the starting lineup a week ago, O’Connell has been a consistent source of offense in Williamson’s absence. The 6-foot-6 guard is averaging more than 10 points and has been efficient from the floor in his three games as a starter. O'Connell proved to be more than a spot-up shooter, and scored multiple buckets in transition.
On the defensive end, it was Jones setting the tone for Duke (25-4, 13-3). Further bolstering his Defensive Player of the Year resume, Jones completely locked up Chris Lykes, and picked up six steals on the afternoon. The Hurricanes’ leading scorer on the season mustered just four points Saturday. The first half was particularly painful for Lykes, who missed all eight of his shot attempts in the period, to go along with three turnovers.
Jones’ pestering on defense created numerous fast break opportunities for the Blue Devils, who finished with 10 team steals and 21 points off turnovers.
“It starts on the defensive end for us,” Jones said. “When teams are scoring on us, it slows us down offensively, meaning we need to play more of an offensive game, and everything is more clogged up. When we’re able to play defense and are at our pace, we’re able to get in transition and things are in our control.”
With just more than two minutes remaining in the opening period, Jones picked Lykes’ pocket in the backcourt, leading to a 3-point play from Marques Bolden. On the ensuing possession, the Duke point guard attempted a rare dunk attempt, narrowly missing a memorable poster over Lykes.
The fifth Blue Devil starter, Bolden, also contributed during the win, with a season-high 15 points and 10 rebounds, good for his second double-double of the season. Bolden returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Feb. 20.
Although less prominent Blue Devils stood out against Miami, Reddish and Barrett still made a significant impact. The pair of freshmen combined to shoot 15-for-32, and set the tone for the squad all afternoon. Barrett has stood out in his role as a distributor, picking up seven assists, and is averaging 5.8 assists in the team’s four games without Williamson.
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“I just think [Cam]’s getting better,” Krzyzewski said. “What we’re trying to have him do is have him drive the ball more, and not just shoot it. Because then he can get fouled, and he’s really good when he gets [to the line].”
With the victory against the Hurricanes, Duke secured a double-bye in the ACC tournament. The Blue Devils will host Wake Forest Tuesday before completing their regular season schedule Saturday when they travel to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina.