Anyone familiar with the Duke men's basketball program has likely heard of head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s concept of the 'next play'—that is, no matter what just happened, be it good or bad, what's most important is what you do next. It is a critical facet of Krzyzewski's coaching philosophy and something he has instilled in generations of players dating back to his first few years in Durham in the 1980s.
Coming off one of the most stunning losses in program history Tuesday night, Friday night’s contest against Winthrop served as a test for how much this year’s young Duke team has bought into that concept. Several players answered the call to move on from the embarrassing defeat, including Joey Baker, who knocked down four 3-pointers, and Vernon Carey Jr., who imposed his will in the paint late to seal the win.
But arguably the most impressive response came from Matthew Hurt, as the freshman led all scorers with 20 points, the highest output of his young career. Perhaps most importantly, 18 of those points came in the first half, as the Blue Devils again found themselves scrapping for the lead in Cameron Indoor Stadium in a game few expected to be close.
“[Hurt’s] a young freshman, really talented, and so there’s ups and downs,” said Baker. “But it’s a long season and it’s a learning process, so I think tonight was really good for his confidence and reminding him how good he is.”
Hurt was coming off a 15-point performance against Stephen F. Austin Tuesday night, when he was one of the few bright spots for Duke in its historic loss to the Lumberjacks. But before that, he had a rough time in New York last week in the 2K Empire Classic, scoring just nine points against lowly California and none in the final against Georgetown last Friday.
With that context, Hurt's play this week has been the embodiment of the 'next play' concept. His 18 points in the first half provided a key spark for the Blue Devils when, for the second time in less than four days, they found themselves going back and forth with a team they were supposed to blow out of the gym by 20-plus points.
When Winthrop took its first lead of the game at 6-5, it was Hurt who answered with an offensive rebound and short jumper to retake the lead. After the Eagles went back ahead 10-7 30 seconds later, Hurt took a pass from Wendell Moore and knocked down his first three of the night to tie the score.
With eight minutes remaining in the first half and Winthrop only down a point, Hurt followed up a Carey bucket by breaking away on Duke’s next possession for a fast break dunk that lit up the Cameron Crazies and injected life into a Blue Devil team that had been struggling to pull away. For the rest of the half, he continued to drive aggressively and force his way to the line, where he finished the day 4-for-6.
"He was the one guy Tuesday I thought played real well. I’m proud of him because he was not good in New York. We met, and he’s worked harder," said Krzyzewski. "He responded well. He responded real well. I’m proud of him. We’ve just got to keep moving on."
In the second half, Hurt couldn't sustain the offensive clinic he put on in the first period, likely due in part to the Eagles changing their defensive scheme to key in on him more. However, he still played a big role in sealing Duke's win, including dishing out the assist on Baker's final 3-pointer to stretch the lead back to 12 and snuff out any hopes for an Eagles comeback.
The upcoming week will be another test of Hurt's ability to move on to the 'next play' after the good and bad, as the Blue Devils travel to East Lansing, Mich., Tuesday night and then Blacksburg, Va. Friday to take on No. 3 Michigan State and Virginia Tech in two highly-anticipated matchups. With Hurt's classmate Cassius Stanley sidelined with a hamstring injury, Hurt's ability to move on and continue to make plays will be critical for Duke to make it to Christmas with only Tuesday's blemish on its record.
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