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Duke men's basketball to return home for contest against Stephen F. Austin

<p>Will Vernon Carey Jr. be able to continue his dominant stretch Tuesday?</p>

Will Vernon Carey Jr. be able to continue his dominant stretch Tuesday?

There's no doubt that the big city and bright lights of an NBA arena have their perks, but for Duke, sometimes home can be just what is needed.

The top-ranked Blue Devils will return home for a two-game home-stand Tuesday to take on Stephen F. Austin at 9 p.m. in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The return to Durham will be very welcomed for Duke, as the team has played half of their first six games in Madison Square Garden.

After rising from No. 4 to the top spot in the AP Top 25 poll over the first three weeks, the Blue Devils solidified their top ranking last week with wins against California and Georgetown in the 2K Empire Classic. 

One of the keys to Duke's hot start has been establishing a clear team identity and, while the team's defensive prowess is evident, its ability to create extra chances with offensive rebounding has played a big role in the undefeated season thus far. With more than 17 offensive boards per game, the Blue Devils pare top in the country in that category. Vernon Carey Jr., Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Javin DeLaurier and Cassius Stanley all have at least two offensive rebounds per game on the year.

“Just preparation really," Carey explained on how the team has improved on the boards. "Practicing with our rebounding drills and just attacking the glass a lot more. Just focusing on that aspect more.”

Carey hasn't limited his aggression to rebounding, as the freshman center averaged 25.5 points and 11 rebounds over the last week. Those numbers were good enough to secure 2K Empire Classic MVP, ACC Freshman of the Week and ACC Co-Player of the Week honors, and Carey  continues to prove himself as Duke's go-to option.

“We’re finding ourself offensively," Krzyzewski said on his star freshman. "I’m still learning about Vernon. I knew he would be good… he’s like really good.”

Thanks to a 50.9 percent mark from the field, the Hoyas were the first team this season to top 70 points against the Blue Devils (6-0), although Krzyzewski's squad will still rely on its defense. Duke guard Tre Jones will face another challenge, as three of the Lumberjacks' four double-digit scorers are guards that shoot above 37 percent from beyond the arc.

“Just trying to take other teams out of their offense to start off with," Jones said on the Blue Devils' defensive approach. "Our coaches prepare us for every single game really well. We know coming in what their tendencies are, what their strengths are, and what their weaknesses are as well.”

Stephen F. Austin (4-1) definitely has offensive firepower, averaging more than 82 points per contest, however, it's more likely that the Lumberjacks are putting points on the board thanks to their defense. Head coach Kyle Keller's squad ranks No. 1 in the country in turnovers forced per game, with 25.8 per game. If Duke's backcourt isn't careful, Tuesday's contest could turn sloppy and get out of control.

The Lumberjacks burst onto the college basketball scene in 2014 after appearing in the NCAA tournament for just the second time in program history. Now, the Southland conference representatives have secured a spot in the Big Dance in four of the last six seasons, including an upset as the No. 14 seed against third-seeded West Virginia in 2016. 

The Blue Devils will take a quick break for Thanksgiving after the matchup with the Lumberjacks before hosting Winthrop Friday night. Then, it's the Elite Eight rematch the college basketball world has been waiting to see, with Duke traveling to play Michigan State Dec. 3 in the ACC-BigTen Challenge.


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