As Duke returns home from a trying road trip to host Georgia Tech, the Blue Zone brings you three keys to a Blue Devil victory:
Move the ball
There were moments during Saturday’s 70-65 loss at Louisville in which it felt as if the Blue Devil offense was truly building some momentum. For instance, when a DJ Steward 3-pointer brought Duke level with the Cardinals and set up Matthew Hurt to give the visitors a late lead on the next possession, one could have reasonably inferred that the more talented and versatile offense had taken over for good.
Unfortunately, Duke's offense sputtered out down the stretch, leaving the Blue Devils with more questions than answers upon their return to Durham. Consistent, crisp ball movement seemed to evade the Blue Devils as they reverted to multiple Hurt isolation plays—which had kept them close throughout—that turned into a tendency to hoist undesirable looks with the shot clock ticking down.
An unsettling amount of Blue Devil possessions stalled beyond the arc in Saturday’s loss. And while true scorers like Hurt and Steward—the team’s only double-digit scorers at Louisville—excel in isolation, it is no wonder that so many other regular contributors struggled to find the bottom of the net. As Duke moves into a matchup with a far less formidable defensive team, the ball movement must improve on the offensive end. A number of slumping Blue Devils would be thankful, and the team as a whole figures to be the beneficiary.
Since Duke last took the floor in Cameron Indoor Stadium more than two weeks ago, their opponents have earned their way to the charity stripe at a rate nearly double that of the Blue Devils. In the last three games, Duke is totaling 43 free throw attempts of their own while yielding an astonishing 80 attempts. A portion of this discrepancy can be attributed to Duke’s small ball orientation, yes, but the harsh truth for head coach Mike Krzyzewski is that his squad is losing an important battle in this department and ultimately leaving points on the board.
Georgia Tech is by no means an elite free throw shooting team, but they do boast a pair of excellent high volume free throw shooters in star guard Jose Alvarado and teammate Moses Wright. As such, staying well below the team foul limit and seeking out contact on the offensive end should be yet another priority for the Blue Devils as just another step towards a much-needed win.
The heartbreaking final sequence of Duke’s loss to the Cardinals—in which Steward, Joey Baker and Wendell Moore Jr. all missed what would have crucial 3-pointers—is the sort of moment that can have a profound effect on any team. Now at somewhat of a crossroads, it is of the utmost importance that the Blue Devils elect not to dwell on what could have been in a few close losses, but rather focus on beating a manageable opponent in Georgia Tech come Tuesday night.
As Moore wisely pointed out after the loss, the Blue Devils got the open looks they needed to return home with a victory. On another night, perhaps, maybe one of those shots falls in the clutch, and the narrative around Duke’s losing streak ceases to exist. But Moore’s words should remind this young team of the importance of moving on and living game by game, a mindset that these young Blue Devils would do well to adopt as they hit the court once more.
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