Duke and North Carolina have spent most of the last decade alternating championships and special moments.
However, after the Tar Heels lost to Wofford last Sunday without their own standout point guard, Cole Anthony, the Blue Devils were ready to do something different than their arch rivals.
Despite a long break for exams, No. 4 Duke showed little rust in a balanced attack to handle the Terriers 86-57 Thursday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils were without sophomore floor general Tre Jones, who missed the game with a mild foot sprain, but junior point guard Jordan Goldwire filled in admirably with a stout defensive effort and sophomore forward Joey Baker put on an absolute show.
“This has been a very taxing time, and so to see our kids respond.... We had the toughest week I’ve ever had at Duke,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “At Michigan State and Virginia Tech, and with all the academics. The toughest week we’ve had, with this young group. I think they’ve matured, they’ve handled it, but it takes its toll.”
Needing to fill in for Jones' offensive abilities, the fellow sophomore Baker knocked down five 3-pointers for 22 points, providing the fireworks in the second half of an already lopsided contest. Goldwire added eight points of his own on a perfect 3-for-3 shooting.
"I feel like I always put in the work, so when I get going, it's not really surprising to me," Baker said on his career night.
After Wofford lit up North Carolina for 14 3-pointers, Duke (10-1) held the Terriers at bay from beyond the arc.
“We made them work harder on offense," Krzyzewski said. "They didn’t have the looks or the places where they normally get their shots. We just played really well defensively. Our guys just played really hard.”
The Terriers (7-5) tried their best to quell Duke's talent advantage, but Baker's electric shooting helped the Blue Devils ease into a comfortable win. Wofford could only muster up a measly 23-of-61 shooting performance, failing to win its second consecutive game against a ranked opponent.
“We were just trying to run them off the line, make it tough for them to shoot, stay on our feet, not jump into shooters," Goldwire said. "Just do little things to make them feel uncomfortable and I think it worked for the most part.”
Early on, Jones' absence looked like it may put Duke on upset alert. The Terriers didn't let an opening triple from Cassius Stanley faze them, scoring with ease from inside to give the visitors an 11-10 lead at the first media timeout. Instead, Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski decided to game plan against a much smaller Wofford team.
Duke really started to gain momentum thanks to improved on-ball defense, especially from Goldwire. In the span of two minutes, the Blue Devils scored eight unanswered points to push the Duke lead to 24-15. Moore got the crowd going with a steal and break-away slam.
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
“Coming off of academics, we had a big week to prepare," Goldwire said on the team's mindset after the long break. "So just trying to stay focused the whole game, stay poised. Playing defense is something I try to always do, so try to just do it from the jump.”
In what is seeming like a major shift from previous years, the scorer's table was a busy place for the duration of the first half, with nine Duke players seeing at least six minutes and all of them adding to the Blue Devils' first half scoring total. After Krzyzewski used his seventh different starting lineup in 11 games, 22 of Duke's 39 points came from the bench, eight of which came from Matthew Hurt.
"[The extended break] is one of the reasons I subbed so much. I never wanted them to get tired," Krzyzewski said. "Once they got tired, they were going to be tired. They’re not going to get refreshed. We have a lot of kids with a lot of minutes and it works if they’re playing well."
Even with Jones out, the injury is considered to be very cautionary, and the sophomore should be ready to go for Duke's next game.
“If this was an ACC game, [Jones] would have played,” Krzyzewski stressed. “He has a slight sprain and it’s better with this break to get well. He’ll be back and he’ll play right away. We’re not hiding anything or anything like that. He’s fitted now for a different orthotic and all that kind of stuff. It’s all good, it’s the toll of the season.”
After finally ending a span of 12 days without a game, the Blue Devils will once again get extended time off for the holidays before one final nonconference game Dec. 28 against Brown. Then it's right back to conference play for Duke, which is looking for its first regular-season conference crown since 2010.