EAST LANSING, Mich.—Few remember the best performance of Javin DeLaurier's career.
His 10-point, 11-rebound effort in the Elite Eight of the 2019 NCAA tournament hardly mattered thanks to the crushing blow of a season-ending loss, as Duke lost by just a point to Michigan State.
For the Duke holdovers from last year, such a bitter ending doesn't go away easily. But in the Blue Devils' rematch against the Spartans this season, Duke made sure Michigan State felt the sting of a bitter defeat.
DeLaurier was one of four often overlooked Blue Devil veterans who played some of their best basketball on the road in a crucial win against the Spartans Tuesday night. Whether it was solid interior plays from Jack White, slick shooting from Joey Baker or key defensive stops from Jordan Goldwire, Duke's returners showed a level of depth that the Blue Devils have been aching for, perfectly complimenting the usual suspects of Tre Jones and Vernon Carey Jr, earning sweet revenge in the process.
"When a team beats you in the tournament and ends your season, it's the game you think about the most, in all your workouts, practices, whatever as you're working towards the next year," DeLaurier said. "And so, it feels good to come beat a really good team and it's a little bit sweeter because they did beat us last year in the Elite Eight."
DeLaurier came out with fire the moment his number was called. Though his defense had been solid at times, sloppy fouls and overly aggressive plays had severely limited his usefulness on the floor previously this season. The Shipman, Va., native showed no signs of sloppiness Tuesday, grabbing a steal almost as soon as he stepped on the floor and following it up with a slam off of a Jones lob. Every time Michigan State looked to the paint in the first half, DeLaurier would be there with either a tough contest or a vicious block, and the senior captain would follow it up with easy buckets in the paint on the other end of the floor.
DeLaurier's 10-point, six-rebound performance was the perfect complement to Carey's production down low, with DeLaurier proving himself to be a solid big man who can be trusted with serious minutes to give the freshman a breather.
And while Carey remained Duke's most consistent scoring threat through the evening, the Blue Devils likely wouldn't have been able to keep the Spartans at bay without big plays from White, Baker and Goldwire down the stretch.
After giving up nine points at the start of the second half, the Blue Devils looked shaken heading into a much-needed timeout. Duke's upperclassmen responded brilliantly, clamping down to rebuild the Blue Devils' cushion.
White made himself a menace against Michigan State's driving wings, choking off the paint and forcing contested floaters all evening. Twice, the star Spartan guard Cassius Winston drove past Jones on his way to a crucial bucket, and twice White rose to stuff Michigan State's attack with vicious blocks. Goldwire got in on the defensive action as well, helping to slow down Winston and Rocket Watts and highlighting his defensive performance with a signature steal leading to a transition bucket just after shutting Watts down with a behind-the-back block.
"Joey and Jordan Goldwire were the difference [in the Winthrop game]," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Jack’s been just solid. I think he had a couple blocks and three steals and hit a big three. So everyone contributed and we needed them to."
And last, but not least, the Blue Devils likely wouldn't be leaving the Breslin Center with a win without Baker's second-half performance.
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Shooting an efficient 5-of-6 from the field—all on long-range jumpers—Baker rose to the occasion every time he was given the ball. When Michigan State found a bucket, the Fayetteville, N.C., native responded right back, sinking a corner triple and following it up with a long-range 2-pointer. On both sides of the ball, Baker embodied some of Duke's most valuable role players of old, getting buckets at all levels and refusing to back down his physical brand of defense no matter who the Spartans threw at him.
"I mean, really, I haven't seen anything different from him," Jones said. "His playing time is going up. He stayed ready every single game, every single day. He's working. He has just been waiting for his name to be called. He's getting the opportunity now and he's just showing that he's ready and what he's capable of."
As Duke continues on a challenging early-season stretch, the Blue Devils know they can't just rely on talented freshmen. Luckily for Duke, at least for tonight, the Blue Devils showed themselves to be a team with the veteran depth necessary to go toe-to-toe with anybody.