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Cassius Stanley comes alive in Duke men's basketball win

<p>Cassius Stanley came alive in the second half.</p>

Cassius Stanley came alive in the second half.

 

As far as Cassius Stanley was concerned, the first 20 minutes against North Carolina State were an eternity ago. All the freshman phenom cared about was getting across the floor, and getting to the rack fast.

N.C. State missed a layup and it was open season, with all five Blue Devils thundering down the court in a dead sprint.

With the Wolfpack’s Markell Johnson caught ball-watching, Stanley blew past his man and locked eyes with Wendell Moore Jr. In the blink of an eye, the Los Angeles native soared high above the rim, grabbing Moore’s lob with his right hand and stuffing it at the hoop to bring the entirety of Cameron Indoor Stadium on to its feet.

Stanley’s one-handed slam was one of three highlight-reel plays the freshman guard made in the second half of Monday’s blowout win against N.C. State. Although the young Blue Devil started the evening incredibly cold, Stanley showed enough grit to reignite through adversity, offering Duke the tantalizing prospect of a consistent third option outside of point guard Tre Jones and center Vernon Carey Jr.

“I was running the floor, it was a split timing thing because I knew people were behind Wendell,” Stanley said. “I was lucky we caught eyes because he threw a beautiful pass. I’m just excited to see what it looks like.”

Like most of his teammates, Stanley opened the first half uncharacteristically flat, especially considering the quality of looks he was given.

Repeatedly, the freshman would shut down in the half court, beating his man on an iso drive and finding his way all the way to the rack, only for the ball to rattle in and out. By the end of the opening 20 minutes, Stanley led the team in shots but had just four points to show for it.

“It’s a mindset,” Stanley said. “The coaches keep telling me it’s going to fall eventually. It was a tough start to the game, but they said find ways to score in other ways. Find ways to impact the game outside of scoring like rebounding, blocks, stuff like that. It loosened me up and got easier.”

However, once the Blue Devils were able to reset their footing and go straight into a transition-based offense, Stanley was able to showcase the best of his game to put the evening away for Duke.

It started with a stop from the Blue Devils’ rarely used 2-3 zone. With Stanley able to anchor himself at the wing on defense rather than move at the mercy of his assignment, the young guard was in prime position to shoot down the court and get to the rim, where Jones was ready to provide the lob for a two-handed slam.

Another possession, another stop, and just like that, Stanley is at the rim for the one-handed meteor. And just when Cameron felt like it couldn’t get any louder, the Los Angeles native grabbed another missed N.C. State shot and drove straight to the basket for an and-one layup that brought the roof down, building a double-digit lead the Blue Devils would not give up.

“What we walked through defensively we did not do at the start of the game,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Markell [Johnson] is magical with the ball screen and you cannot defend it alone, you have to defend it with five guys and we weren’t doing it. So the only thing we could do was try to keep them out of our paint…. That worked for us. The other thing is that we rebounded well and it gave us a fast break. It gave us a really good fast break out of the zone.”

By using a 2-3 zone, Duke was able to use Stanley where he is most lethal: in transition. Without having to slow himself down in a half-court offensive setting, the former four-star recruit was able build rhythm by leveraging his elite athleticism for easy buckets, setting the tone for his teammates to follow suit.

With the NCAA tournament just around the corner and the Blue Devils still looking for consistency heading into March Madness, the prospect of a high-energy go-to scorer like Stanley is invaluable. As long as Duke is able to put Stanley in a position that plays to his strengths, the Blue Devils have an explosive player whose energy, even in the face of adversity, may be the difference maker in Duke’s postseason campaign.

“It was amazing. [Krzyzewski] brought the energy and we matched,” Stanley said. “It was nonstop. That’s what we have to do to continue the season.”

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