Despite an ice-cold performance from beyond the arc, Duke took control in the second half to cruise past Brown 75-50 in a rare Saturday morning matchup. The Blue Zone breaks down three takeaways, stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils:
Three key takeaways:
1. The rust is real
Saturday’s matinee against Brown marked only the second game Duke played in a 22-day span, and the rust that accompanies that lack of game action was apparent early on. The Blue Devils couldn’t shake the Bears throughout the first half, even falling behind by three points 10 minutes into the contest. Some of the sluggish play can be attributed to the absence of point guard Tre Jones—who remained sidelined with a foot strain—but it was clear from the poor shooting and lack of energy apparent throughout the first half that rust was a huge factor affecting the team.
2. O’Connell heating up?
Duke was able to shake off the rust and pull away during the second half thanks in part to the shooting of Alex O’Connell. His 14 points on 40 percent shooting from the floor doesn’t necessarily jump off the box score. But in the context of a disappointing season for the junior and Duke’s overall shooting woes, his performance against Brown is a big deal. It was clear that the Georgia native’s confidence grew with every made shot, and his second half outburst could be the spark he needed to find his role as another consistent shooter for the Blue Devils.
3. Size matters
In a game in which Duke’s shooting was nonexistent and its overall offensive flow was stagnant at best, the Blue Devils were able to rely on their size and athleticism to keep Brown at bay. It’s no secret that Vernon Carey Jr. can be dominant, and that dominance was on display again against the Bears, with the freshman center using his size and skill to overpower his defenders and take over the game on numerous occasions. Along with Carey, almost every Blue Devil—especially Matthew Hurt and Jack White—were able to utilize the mismatches afforded by their size and bully their matchups on the glass and on both ends of the floor.
Three key stats:
33 minutes and 17 seconds
It took Duke 33 minutes and 17 seconds to make its first 3-point field goal. While their size and skill inside allowed the Blue Devils to handle Brown, relying solely on paint dominance isn’t a recipe for success as the season goes along. As the competition gets tougher, Duke has to find some more consistent perimeter shooting. Joey Baker had been able to shoulder the burden with his hot shooting as of late. But the sophomore forward was cold on Saturday, and the result was a 2-of-16 mark from deep and only five made field goals outside the paint for the Blue Devils.
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It was a tale of two shooting performances for Duke on Saturday. The shooting from beyond the arc, and even just beyond the paint, was terrible. But the shooting from the free throw line was a remarkable 81.3 percent. That number likely isn’t sustainable going forward. But that shooting clip does indicate improvement from the line, and if that trend of improvement is sustained for the rest of the season it could be the difference between huge wins and crushing loses when March rolls around.
Duke’s depth was on full display against Brown, as the bench accounted for 34 points. This output continues the trend of stellar performances from the Blue Devil bench, which is averaging 32.6 points throughout the team's current five-game win streak. O’Connell, Hurt and Wendell Moore Jr. were the main contributors off the bench against Brown with 14, eight and 10 points, respectively. Duke's depth has arguably been its greatest asset this season, and bench players getting consistent minutes will allow stars to avoid over-usage and help the entire roster stay fresh throughout the season.
Duke starts ACC play with a home contest against Boston College on New Year’s Eve. Saturday’s game was the perfect opportunity for the Blue Devils to shake off their rust and stay hot going into conference play. Furthermore, Jones should be healthy enough to play against the Eagles, which will provide a huge boost for the Blue Devils' offensive cohesion and flow as the team looks to extend its win streak to six games.