CHESTNUT HILL, MASS.—It’s been over two years since Duke last visited Conte Forum. That meeting, Boston College spoiled Marvin Bagley III and company’s ACC opener en route to an 89-84 upset win.
The Blue Devils would make sure to avoid that outcome Tuesday night, in large part due to Joey Baker.
Baker was the spark Duke needed in the second half. Despite scoring no points in just two minutes of play in the first half, the sophomore finished with eight points on 3-of-3 shooting from the floor including a made triple as the Blue Devils eked out a 63-55 victory in front of a hostile Conte Forum crowd.
“I think we kind of realized it was go-time for us and we couldn’t mess around anymore," Baker said. "We can’t do that in the ACC, it’s such a good league. But we locked in and started playing. Tre was getting penetration, Vernon was getting inside and we started making plays.”
With just under eight minutes remaining, it seemed as if an Eagle run was brewing, as a Boston College second-chance bucket put the home team up by four points for the first time in nearly seven minutes. The crowd was roaring, and Duke promptly called timeout.
After that, the seventh-ranked Blue Devils finally looked like a top-10 team in the country, as Baker hit the team's first three of the contest right out of the break to cut the Eagles’ lead back down to one.
It was an ugly night from beyond the arc, with both squads combining to miss the first 26 3-pointers of the game. For a while, it looked like Duke was at risk of losing its streak of 1,080 consecutive games with a trey, a run that dates all the way back to 1989. Baker made sure that wouldn't be the case.
Overall, the Blue Devils finished 1-of-15 from downtown.
Vernon Carey Jr. led Duke’s offense, finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds on 5-of-13 shooting. Tre Jones added a team-high 18 points to go along with four assists and two turnovers.
Jones also proved to be the Blue Devils' go-to offensive option down the stretch, scoring eight points over the final six minutes.
“Just sticking with it and trusting our work that we put in," Jones said of his team's late-game surge. "We didn’t have the right mindset before the game. We were focused on the game, but we weren’t hungry like we should be. They came out and hit us early. We had to recover from that, but in the second half we came back, we were playing hard in the last eight minutes. I think it started with our defense getting stops and helped us break them down on offense.”
Duke (19-3, 9-2 in the ACC) trailed 49-48 as late as the 6:12 mark of the second half. It was then that the Blue Devils went on their final game-clinching run.
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First, two Carey free throws. Then, a Jones mid-range jumper. In desperation, Boston College (11-12, 5-7) called timeout, but to no avail.
Jordan Goldwire poked out a steal on the Eagles’ next offensive possession, with a Wendell Moore Jr. transition layup finishing off the play. All of a sudden the Blue Devils were up five, their largest lead of the game up to that point, and were in control.
One of the biggest motivators of that run was a change head coach Mike Krzyzewski made on defense, allowing his team to comfortably defend while in the bonus for much of the second half.
"We went to something we put in during our bye week," Krzyzewski said. "Some little change in defense—it's not a three-quarter or a half-court, it's in between, like a 2-3. We call it a 22. And it can stand you up a little bit. And I thought it stood [Boston College] up."
Duke has struggled with slow starts for the good portion of its conference slate, but this one wasn’t quite like the rest. The Blue Devils began a treacherous 1-of-14 from the field over the first nine minutes of the contest, missing shots from just about every spot on the floor, including countless right under the basket.
"When we're young, we try to shoot [under the basket]," Krzyzewski said. "When you're by the bucket, you don't try to shoot, you try to score. It's a big difference... Winning teams score the ball, they don't shoot the ball by the bucket."
But the Eagles proved unable to fully take advantage of Duke’s offensive ineptitude, never growing a lead larger than 12-2. A quick 83-second, 7-0 run by the Blue Devils cut their deficit to just 14-11 with over nine minutes left in the first half, with a Carey layup three minutes later putting Duke ahead for the first time of the evening. The two teams traded leads from there, with Boston College taking a 24-21 advantage into the locker room.
The Blue Devils will get three days of rest before heading to Chapel Hill Saturday to take on a North Carolina team that lost to the Eagles 71-70 last week.
"They have a lot of adversity with me because they didn't listen to me," Krzyzewski said in response to a question of how his young team handled adversity on the road, referring to his players not being locked in against the Eagles. "So they're in trouble with me. That's the main adversity, because it's stupid not to listen. I've been warning them for two days about it, and I knew—I've watched [Boston College's] recent games. They've been playing great."