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Duke men's basketball to face Georgia State with likely No. 1 ranking on the line

<p>Alex O'Connell is among the Blue Devils shouldering the scoring load this season.</p>

Alex O'Connell is among the Blue Devils shouldering the scoring load this season.

After No. 1 Kentucky’s loss to unranked Evansville Tuesday, the only thing that stands in the way of Duke becoming the top-ranked team in college basketball is Georgia State. 

The second-ranked Blue Devils will welcome the Panthers to Cameron Indoor Stadium for another nonconference matchup Friday at 7 p.m. Duke will look to continue its defensive conquest and handle Georgia State as it has handled its last two opponents, Colorado State and Central Arkansas, which were held to a total of just 109 points. The Blue Devils have now established themselves as a formidable defense that will stifle just about any offense.

“I think we’re a good offensive team naturally, but one big part of becoming a good team is working on our defense,” said junior guard Alex O’Connell. “We’re trying to predicate our team on our defense and try to see if we can build some offense off of our defense, creating steals and getting fast baskets in transition.”

In addition to its defense, one of Duke’s greatest strengths this season is its depth, with multiple capable scorers in the fold. Five Blue Devils (3-0) currently average more than 10 points a game, a clear departure from 2018-19 group, when only three players did so.

“I would say the biggest change is that we’re forced to rely on each other a lot more than we were last year,” said Blue Devil senior captain Javin DeLaurier. “Last year we had guys individually take over games. More often than not now, we really have to work as a team, as a unit. We want to really be together out there.”

Duke's top three scorers are all freshmen: Cassius Stanley, Vernon Carey Jr., and Matthew Hurt. The Panthers (1-1) can expect aggressive scoring and unyielding defense from Stanley, strong post play on both ends from Carey and efficient 3-point shooting from Hurt.

“We have a lot of guys who can play and we have different starting lineups that we can come in and put in the game depending on what kind of matchups we’re trying to give,” said Alex O’Connell. “That balance in depth that we have is a good thing for our team.”

Though a heavy favorite to win, the Blue Devils will be at a disadvantage on the glass—Georgia State is averaging 47.5 rebounds per game, while Duke averages 39.7. On top of that, the Panthers have outrebounded their opponents on the offensive glass by a margin of 39-20. The greatest threat will be 6-foot-8 forward Josh Linder, who picked up 12 rebounds in just 23 minutes of action against Charleston. Duke has the physicality in Carey and DeLaurier to stifle Linder and company on the offensive glass, but failure to do so will result in easy second-chance buckets.

The Blue Devils have all the tools to blow out yet another challenger, but, as Kentucky would tell you, upsets can come when you least expect them. With this in mind, Duke needs to keep its foot on the gas for 40 minutes against Georgia State.

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