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Duke men's basketball seeking bounce-back victory against upstart Bellarmine

Freshman forward Jaemyn Brakefield was one of Duke's few bright spots against Michigan State, notching 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting.
Freshman forward Jaemyn Brakefield was one of Duke's few bright spots against Michigan State, notching 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting.

Sometimes, the key to building chemistry is bouncing back after a tough defeat.

No. 6 Duke suffered its first loss in the Champions Classic since 2016 Tuesday night, as No. 8 Michigan State dominated the final 25 minutes of play en route to a 75-69 victory. The Blue Devils will have to recuperate quickly, however, with a matchup against Bellarmine Friday at 7 p.m. in the Mako Medical Duke Classic Honoring Dr. Onye E. Akwari. The contest will mark the first regular season meeting between the two programs as well as the Knights' first game as a Division I program. 

While Bellarmine (0-0) has had the opportunity to take the floor opposite multiple Power Five teams over the last few seasons in exhibitions, including Indiana, Notre Dame and cross-town rival Louisville, Duke (1-1) represents a relatively rough welcome to the top level of college basketball. 

Nevertheless, the Knights' proficiency from the perimeter will be something to keep an eye on. Bellarmine shot 40.1 percent from distance last year, which would have ranked second in all of Division I, a clear indication that Duke will have its hands full in trying to guard and contest shooters. 

This will especially be the case with senior guard CJ Fleming, who was the fourth-leading scorer on last year’s Knights team at 9.6 points per game—Fleming shot 39.7 percent from beyond the arc in 2019-2020 on 4.9 attempts per contest. The Blue Devils may look to senior guard Jordan Goldwire to force Fleming out of rhythm and prevent him from getting clean looks from outside. 

Alongside Fleming in the backcourt are juniors Dylan Penn and Pedro Bradshaw, both of whom are more slasher than outside shooter. Bellarmine's backcourt trio complements each other extremely well, however, and will present issues in transition for the Blue Devils. 

The lack of size from the Knights may tempt Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski into trotting out some bigger lineups Friday, particularly lineups that feature freshmen Mark Williams and Henry Coleman III. The Blue Devils have lacked ball movement through their first two games thanks to an overreliance on iso ball and dribble drives, something that could be remedied by some high-low actions using Coleman and Williams on the interior. 

“That’s something we looked at during film and it’s just something we have to get better at,” freshman forward Jaemyn Brakefield said regarding Duke’s ball movement. “As it gets down the stretch of the game, we just have to play smarter, play harder and just take care of the ball.”

With four of the Knights' five starting positions likely to be occupied by upperclassmen, experience and ball security will be key for Bellarmine if it wants to keep Friday night's game competitive. An assist to turnover ratio of 1.4—the Knights' mark last season—is nothing to marvel at, though it does exceed the Blue Devils' alarming 0.85 mark through two games this season.

Despite the obvious talent gap between these two schools, Duke should be wary of getting too comfortable Friday. Bellarmine is an unselfish, balanced team led by 16th-year head coach Scott Davenport, who has racked up 264 wins during his tenure with the Knights, so Friday night will require focus for all 40 minutes.

“We’re not going to think of them any lower than any other team,” Brakefield said. “So, we’re going to play it like we played Michigan State, or better.”


Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.

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