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KNOCKED OUT: Fighting Illini take down Blue Devils in ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Junior guard and preseason All-American Ayo Dosunmu paced Illinois offensively.
Junior guard and preseason All-American Ayo Dosunmu paced Illinois offensively.

What a difference the Cameron Crazies make.

The Blue Devils entered this season having lost two nonconference home games since the start of the millennium. Over the last eight days, they’ve matched that total.

No. 10 Duke fell to No. 6 Illinois 83-68 in Cameron Indoor Stadium Tuesday night, snapping its eight-game win streak in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Blue Devils shot a mere 40.3% from the field, including 5-of-22 from deep, in their second-straight defeat at the hands of a ranked opponent following last Tuesday’s loss to now-No. 4 Michigan State.

Despite leading the Blue Devils in scoring with 19 points, Matthew Hurt struggled to shoot the ball all night. The sophomore forward finished 0-of-6 from deep after hitting nine of his 16 attempts from beyond the arc entering the game.

The Fighting Illini, on the other hand, hit seven of their 11 attempts from three en route to a 58% overall mark from the field. Preseason All-American Ayo Dosunmu led Illinois with an 18-point, 12-rebound double-double, one of six Fighting Illini to finish the game in double digits on the scoreboard.

"We got beat by a team that's better than we are and older, more mature," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They kind of imposed their will on us. We're just not as good as they are. And therefore, you got to be really smart, you got to hit shots. We're not there yet. We got a lot to learn."

Despite trailing by 19 points early in the second half, it looked like Duke (2-2) was starting to make a run. First, freshman point guard Jeremy Roach drilled a pull-up jumper, with Hurt finding his way under the basket for an easy layup a minute later. Not long after, senior point guard Jordan Goldwire drove hard to the basket, absorbed the foul and banked the lay-in off the glass, converting the free throw to cut the Blue Devils’ deficit to 48-36.

On the ensuing possession, Dosunmu drove down the lane for the counterpunch, but Joey Baker slid over just in time to take what was called a charge, even if Jay Bilas made sure to let everyone know on the broadcast that he disagreed. Goldwire hit a floater on the other end, and all of a sudden a 9-0 Blue Devil run cut the Fighting Illini lead down to 10.

It was at this point Duke could’ve really used the energy from the Cameron Crazies.

Rather than feeding off that energy and continuing their comeback bid, the Blue Devils faltered. First, Dosunmu hit a jumper to bring Illinois’ edge back to 12. Then, Hurt bricked a three off the backboard, with the long rebound bouncing right to Dosunmu, who started the break and tossed a lob to forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili for the momentum-swinging jam.

"We did some things defensively to put us in a position to put some game pressure on them, but then they always answered," Krzyzewski said. "They're good—[Illinois head coach] Brad [Underwood] does a great job with his team. They have a lot of weapons. They're a good team.... And we're just an average team that's very young that has to get better."

Illinois (4-1) shot out to an early 12-2 edge by the under-16 timeout, in large part thanks to a stagnant Duke offense. After exhibiting promising ball movement against Bellarmine Friday, the Blue Devils returned to the iso offense that plagued them against the Spartans, leading to awkward midrange jumpers and costly giveaways—seven of the Fighting Illini’s first 12 points came off Duke turnovers. 

The visiting squad started to slow down during the middle of the first half, scoring four points within a seven-minute timeframe, but the Blue Devils proved unable to take advantage. Duke never cut its deficit to less than eight points over the first 20 minutes.

"We're gonna continue to work on our offense," Hurt said. "Whether it's motion offense, whether it's set plays—I think just keep attacking the rim, just find the open guy and just calling people off. If you have an open shot, call for it and shoot it with confidence."

Even when the Blue Devils' offense started coming alive, so too did that of Illinois. 

A Mark Williams alley-oop slam with 4:20 remaining in the half looked to be the spark Duke needed to begin an end-of-half surge, especially when Illinois point guard Trent Frazier threw the ball out of bounds on the Fighting Illini’s ensuing possession and Baker hit two free throws on the other end to cut Illinois’ lead to 28-20.

But without the roaring Crazies to jolt the run, Illinois quickly responded, with Dosunmu hitting a quick midrange jumper and Frazier following that up with a leaning 3-pointer to reestablish the Fighting Illini’s commanding edge.

"[Illinois was] hitting big threes," Roach said. "It was kind of just a lack of attention to detail, we were leaving the strong side corner and we were digging too much with [Fighting Illini 7-foot center Kofi Cockburn] and [they were] getting wide open threes."

Roach was one of the few bright spots for Duke, finishing with a season-high 13 points and seven assists on 5-of-11 shooting. Forward Wendell Moore Jr., however, continued his sophomore slump, ending the game with zero points on an 0-of-3 mark from the floor.

Duke will look to bounce back Saturday at 2 p.m. against Charleston Southern before beginning ACC play next Wednesday at Notre Dame.

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