In a game in which empty possessions would not be tolerated, Notre Dame’s offense simply outplayed Duke’s.
Despite an offensive barrage from the Blue Devils, their defense couldn’t find a groove, falling 93-89 to Notre Dame Tuesday evening in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“Tough loss. Mike [Brey]’s been on such a roll offensively these last couple weeks. They’re really tough to defend, and then [Cormac] Ryan had a sensational first half,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “And saying that, I thought it was one of the best offensive games we’ve played.”
The entire game was an offensive explosion for both sides. The Blue Devils started 8-of-11 from the field and 4-of-4 from deep and opened up a 12-point lead in the first six minutes, with that edge eventually becoming as large as 15. But ultimately, Duke couldn’t hang on and dropped yet another heartbreaking game.
Down the stretch, Duke (7-8, 5-6 in the ACC) struggled to return to its game that had worked so well in the 35 minutes prior. Jeremy Roach was called for a charge with 1:06 left and a 30-foot dagger from Prentiss Hubb 30 seconds later put the Blue Devils away for good.
This was a much closer game than many anticipated, as the Blue Devils just couldn’t keep the Fighting Irish (8-10, 5-7 ACC) away. A big reason for that was Notre Dame guard Cormac Ryan, who shot the lights out all afternoon. His 27 points led all scorers and kept Duke on its heels all game.
“In the first half he was playing really well. He had a bounce in his step that you see when guys get going,” Wendell Moore Jr. said of Ryan. “I think we did a good job with him in the second half knowing where he was at, but in the first half he got every look he wanted.... We just have to do a better job when a guy gets hot like that, learn how to key in on him and make sure he doesn’t keep going.
It took a whole team effort from Duke to try and overcome Ryan’s domination. Moore impressed with 24 points on 56.3% shooting, and five other Blue Devils tallied at least eight points.
“I’m really just trusting my work. We work on our offense everyday in practice, so I know the shots I should be getting on all teams, spots on the floor and just getting more comfortable with that,” Moore said of his recent success shooting the ball. “My teammates keep trusting me and my teammates give me the confidence to go out and play hard every time.”
With 14:22 remaining in the second half, the Fighting Irish grabbed their first lead of the game via a 3-pointer from Dane Goodwin. The teams continued to trade the lead from there, as neither program had the defensive answer required to stop their opponent.
Fouls plagued the Blue Devils once again in the second half. Duke put Notre Dame in the bonus with 8:30 to play in the game and Matthew Hurt was forced to take a seat just moments prior after picking up his fourth foul. While Hurt is clearly Duke’s greatest weapon on offense, he's struggled with foul trouble on the other end of the floor.
The first half was really a tale of two quarters. In the first portion, Duke dominated, opening up a double-digit lead in the first five minutes that reached as high as 15 points. But the second quarter was a different story. Notre Dame got hot out of nowhere and it became increasingly apparent that the Blue Devils had no answer for Ryan. He lit up the scoreboard with 21 first-half points on 8-of-11 shooting and helped bring the Fighting Irish deficit all the way down to just five at the half.
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Purely looking at Duke’s offensive first half, you’d expect domination. But a 50-45 halftime tally spoke to the larger reality that the Blue Devils’ defense plagued their ability to stretch a lead.
“In the first half, we overhelped. Part of their scheme [is to] have really good spacing...when they space with threes—they got three threes in a row with our overhelp.” Krzyzewski said. “Ryan really went by us a couple times…our guys are playing hard, but you gotta play that smarter.”
In a year full of inconsistency, it was a game full of struggles for freshman Jalen Johnson.
Johnson continued to play away his minutes. The five-star freshman came off the bench for the second game in a row, and when he finally touched the floor for the first time midway through the first half, he proceeded to commit two immediate turnovers.
Johnson registered just seven minutes in the opening half and 15 in the game.
The Blue Devils will travel to face N.C. State Saturday, looking to snap their losing streak.
“These things...this will pay off at some time if you stay with it. It did in ‘82-’83, it did in ‘95-’96 and it did in 2006,” Krzyzewski said. “There are times in our program where you learn to appreciate the winning that has come at such a high level and how tough losing is.”