The college basketball world seems to think that Duke's roster this season isn't really equipped with perimeter threats. Matthew Hurt would kindly disagree.
Aided by a usual dominant defense, Hurt delivered one of the most impressive halves of the year for a Blue Devil, as No. 2 Duke put away Boston College early 88-49 Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The freshman posted a career-high 25 points and four rebounds while hitting five 3-pointers in the program's 13th consecutive win in home ACC openers.
“[Hurt] is a little bit stronger, a few pounds heavier, and he is one of the main guys who is talking more on defense and offense," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "As a result, his movements are stronger, and he takes his shot quicker. It’s just a part of growing up as a player.”
Along with Hurt, the Blue Devils were led by Vernon Carey Jr.'s nine points and nine rebounds, but also by a balanced scoring attack with at least seven points from five rotation players. After missing the last two games with a mild foot sprain, sophomore point guard Tre Jones posted five points and 10 assists in his first game back. With 20 of his points in the first half, Hurt fell one point short of Carey's team high this season for most points in a half.
“It’s a big boost to my confidence," Hurt said. "I’ve had some bad games this year, but never try to get too low. When you have the high, just try to stay even. Don’t try to look at this game, look forward to the next game.”
Despite early 3-pointers from Alex O'Connell and Hurt, Duke (12-1, 2-0 in the ACC) looked like it was in for another grind-it-out, defensive battle. With seven minutes to play in the half, the Blue Devils led 21-12 with a balanced scoring attack. Then, Hurt started to gain some confidence that should put the rest of the conference on notice if he becomes more consistent. The freshman may have gotten the Cameron Crazies rocking with a barrage of triples, but it was really his work on the offensive glass and interior that kickstarted a 15-3 run.
“Coach always told me and the bigs to attack the offensive glass," Hurt said. "Coach Scheyer told me rebounds lead to better offensive possessions for me. So I just tried to get my hands dirty, get rebounds and play winning basketball.”
With what seemed like a very quiet 12 points to start the half, Hurt—with help from Jones—led a patented Duke spurt that saw the Minnesota native connect on a 3-pointer from the corner and finish inside for another lay-in. Then, after a Krzyzewski timeout with 12 seconds left in the half, Hurt once again nailed an open look to beat the buzzer, capping a stretch of eight points in less than a minute for a 45-19 Blue Devil lead at the break.
“It’s a big lift in his game and a lift for this whole team," Carey said on his classmate's performance. "If he’s playing good, everyone else is going to play good. With him spacing the floor and Tre coming back, I think we played really well.”
Sitting the last two games mostly for precautionary reasons, Jones was rusty early as he missed his first four shots from the floor. The sophomore would still contribute in his signature fashion though, totaling six assists in the first half without a turnover. Jones finally displayed some offensive power at the end of the half by converting on a tough lay-up and a 3-pointer.
“It’s just how the game came to me," Jones said on his adjustment to being a facilitator Tuesday. "Early on they were just helping a lot, pulling over backside which got our shooters and guys on the wing open a lot. I was trying to attack at the beginning but just realizing how they were playing and adjusting to it.”
Boston College (8-6, 2-1 in the ACC) looked sharp to start the second half with two quick buckets in the first minute and a half of the second frame, but the Blue Devils quickly put an end to any chance of a comeback. Jones made two gorgeous passes, one to Carey for a dunk and another to a soaring O'Connell for an alley-oop to put Duke up by 30.
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Though the second half wasn't nearly as effective as the first for Hurt, the freshman still connected on one more 3-pointer before exiting to a massive ovation with six minutes to play in the contest. Though he came in as Duke's third leading scorer, Hurt played with the shoot-first mentality that the team needs outside of Carey and Jones.
“He’s been playing well, so it didn’t just get him going," Krzyzewski stressed. "He’s played well and he’s playing well defensively. Obviously, when he mixes it up and gets rebounds, everyone who does that is going to get better because that’s what makes you tougher. He played a hell of a game today.”
With Krzyzewski running platoon substitutions throughout the second frame, the Blue Devils continued to apply great pressure, leading to 19 forced turnovers and keeping the Eagles at bay. Jared Hamilton and CJ Felder led Boston College with nine and 13 points, respectively.
"We actually played like we practiced these last two days," Krzyzewski emphasized. "The guys have really had great energy, have been talking more... Thats a neat thing if you practice well."
After starting his career with the Blue Devils in 2015, Derryck Thornton made his return to Cameron now as the Eagles' starting point guard. The graduate-transfer made his way to Boston College after spending two seasons at USC. Things looked promising for Thornton as he scored the first points of the game on a nifty finish over Carey, however, he would land on Jones' foot five minutes into the second half and finished with just six points on 3-for-12 shooting.
Now the owners of a six-game winning streak, the Blue Devils will go back on the road for a pair of ACC battles before classes get back in session. Duke will head to Coral Gables for a Saturday matchup with Miami and then travel to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech on Jan. 8.