On a night when six Blue Devils score in double-figures, it can be hard to identify a single standout in the game.
Could it be Cassius Stanley, who quietly had 13 points on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting from the field with three steals and three blocks? Or Matthew Hurt, who came off the bench to lead the team with 19 points and canned all three of his shots from downtown?
The brightest star on the cold Tuesday night in Durham, however, was Vernon Carey Jr., who came into his own in the paint in Duke's 105-54 victory against Central Arkansas. The true freshman used his athleticism and physicality inside to the tune of 17 points and 10 rebounds—his first double-double of the season.
"As we go through the season, I think you are going to see more performances like that. That’s who our team is and what we are becoming," Blue Devil senior forward Javin DeLaurier said. "We are a really deep team and whoever is out there, we will have confidence for them to get the job done."
After Carey started the evening with a left-handed floater layup inside to get Duke on the board, he committed an offensive foul when he lowered his shoulder into Hayden Koval and was unable to handle an errant Stanley pass as he jockeyed for position on consecutive possessions. Those miscues, however, were the only issues Carey had all night.
"The biggest challenge in the post is just to seal people and have them sealed so that I can catch it instead of deflecting it or something like that," Carey said.
The Florida native flashed a diverse set of scoring and finishing moves, emblematic of the progress he has made in this young season. Over a 90-second stretch in the middle of the first half, Carey had three baskets, all coming in different ways. First, he elevated over a smaller defender and finished off the glass with his trusty left hand. The next time around, Carey played the pick-and-roll game with Tre Jones and guided a Jones lob into the basket after rolling hard to the rim. The 6-foot-10 center finished the burst by establishing position inside, catching an entry pass from Hurt and turning to the rim for a seamless slam.
"Vernon is a really talented big and he makes his presence felt almost every time he steps on the court. He did a great job of doing that tonight," DeLaurier said. "Being confident, demanding the ball and going up and finishing plays."
Carey was not only active in scoring, but also in the rebounding department. In his last bucket of the first half, Carey cleaned up a Wendell Moore miss for a putback dunk and finished the night with 10 rebounds—two on the offensive end. He opened the second half in the same fashion, grabbing a rebound after his own miss and finishing with a layup. Carey's missed jumper was the only shot he took outside of the paint on the evening.
"One of my main focuses today was just to rebound more and stay attacking the glass. I feel like that took care of everything else, really," Carey said. "[Head coach Mike Krzyzewski] said whenever I go towards the glass it will take care of everything else. It is that and just staying more aggressive on the offensive end."
Although Carey has shown a solid shooting stroke in previous games, converting on midrange jumpers from the elbow and converting on both attempts from behind the arc against Kansas, he continued to pound the paint throughout the evening, converting another easy layup after sealing the paint.
Another play of note came with just over five minutes left in the contest. With Wendell Moore driving into the paint, Carey's defender slightly slid off of him to help. Carey wisely made himself available for a bounce pass by the baseline, received the dish and finished with a slam. The freshman big finished his efficient night connecting on eight of 10 shots and averaging 0.85 points per minute on 20 minutes of playing time.
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"[Assistant coach] Nate James has been working with me a lot. I worked on everything a little extra before the game. I felt more relaxed and more comfortable with everything out there," Carey said. "I feel like I am getting better and better each game. That is the goal for everybody. Just taking baby steps."