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Beyond the arc: Duke men's basketball's defense carries Blue Devils in win over No. 3 Kansas

With the Blue Devils struggling to keep up with Kansas early in the second half, freshman guard Cassius Stanley provided Duke the spark it needed
With the Blue Devils struggling to keep up with Kansas early in the second half, freshman guard Cassius Stanley provided Duke the spark it needed

It wasn't exactly pretty, but fourth-ranked Duke took care of business against No. 3 Kansas Tuesday night, winning 68-66 for the program's third consecutive Champions Classic victory. The Blue Zone takes a look at three takeaways, three key stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils:

Three key takeaways:

1. Defense will be key

From the first couple minutes of the game, it was clear that defense will be Duke's strength this year. It might be tempting to chalk up some of Kansas’ 28 turnovers to nerves or rust, but the Blue Devils' relentless and ball-hawking defense gave the Jayhawks fits throughout the game. The backcourt duo of Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire played exceptionally on the defensive end as expected, but contributions throughout the lineup were key in preventing Kansas from getting into any sort of offensive rhythm.

2. The offense should run through Vernon Carey Jr.

Going into this season, everyone knew Carey was an offensively gifted big man. But tonight, he showed that his skills aren’t limited to those of a traditional center. The five-star recruit shot a perfect 2-of-2 from deep, including a huge second half trey that cut Kansas’ lead to 46-40 and stemmed a 14-point Jayhawk run. Besides his surprising display of shooting, Carey also showed an impressive ability to open up the floor and facilitate for his teammates. His one assist might not jump off the box score, but when Kansas swarmed the freshman big in the paint, his high basketball IQ was on display as he dished out to the perimeter and opened up the Blue Devil offense.

3. This team’s got heart

There were multiple instances throughout the game, especially at the start of the second half, where it looked like Kansas might’ve had Duke on the brink. However, the Blue Devils showed a lot of resilience in playing hard to keep the game close when their offense was faltering. The type of heart and hustle Duke displayed would be expected from a more mature squad, but the freshmen showed a willingness to fight through adversity uncharacteristic of their youth. 

In particular, freshman guard Cassius Stanley disrupted Kansas on the defensive end with his athleticism and motor while sparking the Blue Devils on offense with two monster dunks and a huge 3-pointer. Duke was also buoyed by veterans like Jack White, Javin DeLaurier and Jones. The latter of the three made his expected contribution on defense with two steals, but DeLaurier and White came up huge with hustle plays that saved the game late in the second half as well. White especially made a huge impact by grabbing clutch rebounds all night and making perhaps one of the plays of the game by stealing a Jayhawk pass with 37 seconds left and Duke up by only one point.

Three key stats:

1. 35.9 percent shooting from the field for Duke

The fact that the Blue Devils managed to win the game while shooting only 35.9 percent from the field is a testament to their defense grit. However, it’s clear that shooting at such a low clip is not a sustainable recipe for success as the season transpires. Shooting efficiency was last year’s achilles heel for Duke, and it looks like that trend might carry over to this season as well. However, solid shooting from beyond the arc by Matthew Hurt, Carey and Stanley should give Blue Devil fans hope that the team can become more efficient as the season goes on.

2. 28 turnovers for Kansas

Kansas’ 28 turnovers will be the dominant storyline coming out of Tuesday night's game. While the Jayhawks played extremely sloppily, their messy play shouldn’t overshadow Duke’s exceptional defensive effort. The Blue Devils' length and athleticism allows them to put constant pressure on the ball and consistently disrupt passing lanes and shots. Kansas' season-high last year was 23 turnovers, and Duke’s ability to cause so much chaos against such a skilled opponent shows that they will be able to stay competitive against anyone, even amidst offensive struggles of its own.

3. 39 minutes for Tre Jones

Jones is undoubtedly one of Duke’s biggest leaders, and it’s expected that he will play big minutes in most games this year. However, 39 minutes per game is a potentially unsustainable number. Jones is by far the best primary ball-handler on the team and the lack of a clear second option will force him to carry the burden at point guard. If Jordan Goldwire picks up his offensive production he could alleviate Jones’ load, but if the sophomore captain consistently plays upwards of 35 minutes his durability could suffer later in the season.

Looking forward:

It’s important not to overreact to any result this early in the season, but a win against the third-ranked team in the country takes a lot of pressure off this young squad. With a relatively easy schedule for the next couple of weeks, the Blue Devils can focus on fixing their weaknesses in lower-pressure games. Next up is Colorado State this Friday at 7 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

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