SOUTH BEND, IND.—Midway through the first half, senior point guard Jordan Goldwire delivered a beautiful bounce pass to a cutting DJ Steward, who converted the tough finish to put the Blue Devils up 21-13.
On the other end, Joey Baker quickly forced a steal and went coast to coast himself, hitting the layup to hand Duke a double-digit lead.
That sequence defined the Blue Devils’ ACC opener against Notre Dame at Purcell Pavilion, as Duke cruised to a 75-65 win behind newfound ball movement on offense and gritty effort on defense.
"They got better tonight," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of his team. "They just got better tonight, and they're becoming more and more comfortable playing with one another."
The Blue Devils (3-2, 1-0 in the ACC) only totaled eight assists on the night, but looked far smoother offensively than they did during their shortened nonconference slate, constantly moving off the ball and avoiding the awkward isolations that plagued them over those first four contests.
On the defensive end, Duke forced 12 Notre Dame turnovers, scoring 14 points off those giveaways. The Blue Devils also held Hubb, who entered the night averaging an ACC-leading 21.3 points per game, to 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting.
Sophomore forward Matthew Hurt led Duke once again with 18 points on 8-of-17 shooting, with Steward adding 16 points of his own.
Freshman Jeremy Roach posted a second consecutive impressive outing for the Blue Devils, with the five-star point guard dropping 14 points on 5-of-6 efficiency just over a week after a breakout 13-point, seven-assist performance against Illinois.
"We worked on it a lot during practice—moving off the ball, getting a couple sets in," Hurt said of the team's offensive flow. "Just ball movement, dribble-drive, getting in the lane and kicking out to open shooters and just finding the open guy."
Notre Dame (2-3, 0-1) continued to battle throughout, pulling within five points on two separate occasions midway through the second half.
The first instance came after two Notre Dame free throws cut the Blue Devil lead to 52-47 with just under 12 minutes to go in the contest. But Duke's free-flowing offense answered right back—the visiting squad played hot potato with the ball around the 3-point arc, eventually finding Jaemyn Brakefield for an open three.
Brakefield notched 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting for the Blue Devils, hitting both of his attempts from beyond the arc.
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A minute later, after a Hubb trey cut Notre Dame’s deficit to five once again, Duke went on its game-clinching run.
First, a Goldwire floater. Then a Brakefield layup, followed by a Steward step-back trey and a Hurt jumper. In a matter of three minutes, a 9-0 run allowed the Blue Devils to jump out to a commanding 64-50 edge, and they never looked back.
"[The players] did it. They did it—it wasn't some coaching move or whatever. They did it," Krzyzewski said of the game-sealing run. "I do think they invested a lot in this game, in preparation. And when you invest a lot, you don't wanna lose your investment. And I think that showed up for them.
"But they did that on their own. That's one of the things that makes me even more happy and proud of them."
The Blue Devils’ ball movement was clear from the start, with the team assisting on three of their first five made baskets en route to a 12-5 advantage in the first six minutes of the game. Duke’s defense also came ready to play to begin the contest, holding the Fighting Irish to just 13 points over the first 10 minutes.
Junior guard Dane Goodwin carried the home team’s offense, scoring 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting, including 4-of-6 from three. His shooting prowess—his performance was the first 25-point, 80% efficiency showing by a player against Duke in the last 10 years—kept Notre Dame in the game for much of the night.
But in the end, it just wasn't enough.
"Notre Dame is a really good team—they have a lot of veterans, and we struggle with veterans," Steward said. "But Coach K, what he said tonight was that we played like veterans. We just went out there and stuck with it. We knew they weren’t gonna go away, they were gonna hit shots. We just had to stick with it, play defense and let it lead to our offense.”
Duke now takes a two-week break, allowing its players to return home for the holidays before resuming ACC play Dec. 29 against Pittsburgh in Cameron Indoor Stadium.