After losing a 19-year home nonconference winning streak earlier this week in embarrassing fashion, there was only one thing left for the Blue Devils to do... start a new one.
And that's just what they did Friday night, though it wasn't pretty—and it certainly looked familiar.
No. 1 Duke overcame a rough first half to pull away late from Winthrop 83-70 in Cameron Indoor Stadium. In what was supposed to be the relatively easy portion of their schedule, the Blue Devils struggled to gain any momentum throughout the night. Freshman Matthew Hurt paced all scorers with 20 points, while sophomore Tre Jones pitched in 13 points and six assists in the win.
Most notably, though, sophomore Joey Baker chipped in a career-high 16 points on four made long-range bombs.
“It was a big win for us, especially coming after Tuesday,” Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We played hard and well tonight, not all the time, but much different than Tuesday. If we had played this way Tuesday, we would have won. We had to play this way to win tonight.”
Many of Duke's problems from Tuesday, when the team gave up 64 points in the paint, were evident again as the Eagles scored 20 of their 35 first half points in the paint. The once offensive rebound-dominant Blue Devils were controlled for the second straight game, with Winthrop winning that battle 11 to eight.
Down by seven after the final media timeout of the game, Eagle guard Chandler Vaudrin missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Vernon Carey Jr. promptly put the Blue Devils (7-1) up by double-digits with a hoop and the harm. Baker would go on to hit two triples under the three-minute mark to seal the game.
Holding just a 57-53 advantage midway through the second half, Duke rode the energy of a massive dunk from Carey to slowly pull away from the Eagles, however, the Blue Devils could never seem to put the nail in the coffin. From the slam to a Joey Baker drawn charge to a steal and lay-in from Jordan Goldwire, Duke never found the moment to ice the game comfortably.
“Just continuing to try to grind them out, possession by possession,” Jones said on the team closing out games. “I think we wanted to come out tonight and explode right away, try to go up 20 right away… we were all trying to make the home run play in just one play, and that’s impossible. So, I think we were trying to get ahead of ourselves a little bit.”
Thanks to those easy looks in the paint and a 1-for-7 start from the floor for Duke, Winthrop (4-4) kept it close for the first 16 minutes of the first half with neither team able to gain more than a three-point lead. With the game tied at 32, the Blue Devils were able to create their first inches of separation thanks to a seven-point spurt capped by a Jones deep ball. The Minnesota native struggled with ball security once again with 10 combined turnovers this week. However, he certainly didn't lose his scoring aggression on the offensive end.
“Well, we’re playing good people,” Krzyzewski emphasized on Jones' play. “Look, we were horrible on Tuesday. So you can take that game and whatever stats you want. That’s not who we are. Tonight, you would have turned the ball over about 80 times if [Russell] Jones was guarding you… We’re happy with Tre. He’s got the ball in his hands all the time.”
Along with Hurt, sophomore Joey Baker played a key role in keeping the game close in the first half, hitting his first three shots including two triples for eight first half points. Hurt led all scorers at the break with 18 points, however, Duke carried just a 42-35 lead heading into halftime.
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“We have a really balanced team,” Baker said. “A lot of different guys can play and it just depends on the team and the matchups, whoever’s got it going that night.”
The Eagles are yet another group that relies on forcing turnovers. That, combined with a balanced scoring attack provided a huge challenge for the Blue Devils. With its leading scorer averaging just over 12 points per contest coming into the night, Winthrop stayed on cue, with no player scoring more than 11 points against Duke.
Like their 15-point lead against Stephen F. Austin, the Blue Devils came out of the gate strong in the second half, running the offense through Jones to push their lead. However, like Tuesday, the hosts got sloppy and the lead was cut to as close as four points.
The Blue Devils certainly needed a win to forget about their 85-83 overtime loss to the Lumberjacks, a game that snapped the aforementioned 150-game streak.
“Just getting back to ourselves tonight,” Jones said on the team's mindset. “We had a tough couple days of practice. We had meetings, film. Felt like we learned a lot about our team, about ourselves over the last couple days. We just wanted to get back to our basketball tonight. Get back to Duke basketball and get back to doing what we do best.”
Despite the win, it didn't come without a price for Krzyzewski and his squad. With just over a minute left, Jones found a wide-open Cassius Stanley streaking towards the basket in transition. While the Cameron Crazies expected a high-flying jam, the freshman guard seemed to take an awkward step when he jumped, missing the lay-up and crumpling to the floor holding his left leg. He would go to the locker room and not return to action.
“For Cassius, right away we thought it was his knee, heard something pop,” Krzyzewski said. “Structurally, based on what our doctors say right now, it’s not the knee. Something happened with his hamstring that he heard pop, so it’s muscular. He’ll have an MRI tomorrow. But we don’t think it’s a knee injury, which is very very good. He’s going to be out for a while… Hopefully right after Christmas. That’s my hope.”
Next week, the Blue Devils will once again leave Durham, this time for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge against No. 3 Michigan State. Then, the young Duke team will open ACC play on the road against Virginia Tech. It remains to be seen if the hostile environments will overwhelm the Blue Devils or will give them the perfect opportunity to rid their current Cameron demons.