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Matthew Hurt continues to make case for ACC Player of the Year with career-best performance

Matthew Hurt finished with a career-high 26 points Saturday.
Matthew Hurt finished with a career-high 26 points Saturday.

Matthew Hurt has been the Blue Devils’ go-to scorer all season, but Saturday’s win against Wake Forest may have been his most complete showing yet.

Hurt impressed from start to finish, scoring Duke’s first seven points and finishing with a career-high 26 to go along with six rebounds and two assists.

Hurt’s development as an all-around weapon has put the 6-foot-9 forward in the conversations surrounding ACC Player of the Year, despite the fact that he missed out on both preseason All-ACC teams.

At the start of the season, Jalen Johnson was projected to be the Blue Devils’ main offensive weapon, with the star freshman garnering preseason All-ACC First Team honors. But Hurt proved to be the team’s most consistent option to begin the year, and in Johsnon’s absence has really come to life. 

“We’ve been really working hard on our offense, whether it's sets, whether it's actions, whether it's moving off the ball and just playing free,” Hurt said Saturday. “I think just doing that every day and the coaches are doing a great job of just knocking on our minds. I think that’s what we’ve improved on since Illinois.”

The biggest evolution in Hurt’s game over the offseason came from his relentless effort in the gym to add muscle mass, helping him gain the confidence to be the team’s primary option. Hurt entered Saturday leading the ACC with 18.5 points per game, placing third with 8.5 rebounds per contest as well.

“I think [Hurt] is playing at a good pace. I like the fact that it’s more of a workmanlike performance from him,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Matt’s playing at a good pace and people are going to come at him and defend him, and so when he touches the ball, our guys get a little more room.” 

Rebounding proved to be a deciding factor for the Blue Devils in Saturday’s win. Duke outrebounded the Demon Deacons 35-25, including 15-8 on the offensive end. By game’s end, the Blue Devils fell just two rebounds shy of racking up the same amount of offensive boards as Wake Forest had on the defensive end. 

Hurt was instrumental in extending plays Saturday, grabbing four offensive rebounds in the second half, all of them leading to a score in some form.

“[Rebounding] was a key for us coming into the game,” Hurt said. “Just trying to read the angles and where the ball is going to drop to. Just going up with two hands and just fighting for the ball.”

The Rochester, Minn., native shot 10-of-15 from the floor and 4-of-7 from deep, but his play was far from one-sided. Defense is always a large aspect of Duke’s game, and Hurt came out to play on that end as well, tying for the team lead with three steals.

All in all, Hurt is finally showing why he came to Durham as the No. 11 recruit in the Class of 2019, and could finish his breakout sophomore campaign as the fourth straight ACC Player of the Year to don the blue and white.

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