It’s not time for Blue Devil fans to paint their faces blue and book a last-minute plane ticket to Indianapolis just yet, but it looks like Duke is going to make the end to this 2020-21 campaign interesting.
After three consecutive losses to end the regular season, the Blue Devils routed Boston College 86-51 Tuesday afternoon behind an offensive air raid from downtown and will live to see another day in the ACC tournament. As much as the final score was a team effort, the biggest takeaway was the combined play of guards Jeremy Roach, DJ Steward and Jordan Goldwire.
The trio accounted for half of the team’s 22 assists, while Steward led the Blue Devils with 17 points.
“In the games that we’ve played well we haven’t turned the ball over and we played good defense and got good shots and we haven’t started out in a hole…. We played a really good game and our perimeter was outstanding and they shared the ball—we had 22 assists,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
The key word in Krzyzewski’s quote was “perimeter,” because that’s a phase of the team’s game that’s been remarkably inconsistent all season.
Duke didn’t crush Boston College thanks to another superb scoring performance from Matthew Hurt, as has been the case for so many of the team’s wins. Rather, the Blue Devils pulled off the impressive victory because Steward, Roach and Goldwire all finally played well in the same game (which has not been a guarantee this season) and managed to show off new, different parts of their skill set.
“It’s a wonderful feeling. We’re all happy, we’re confident and everyone’s happy when everyone’s playing well,” Steward said of how it feels when all three guards are playing well. “So we just gotta keep doing that, continue to stay confident and trust each other and just stay together as one.”
Steward’s putback dunk late in the first half Tuesday was perhaps the best example of the rabbits that Duke’s guards pulled out of their hats against the Eagles. After an errant three from Hurt, Steward took flight for the two-handed putback slam, reminding everyone that the 6-foot-2 guard is more than just a perimeter shooter.
Goldwire was right alongside Steward in showing off a new talent. The senior’s offensive production has increased this season, but he reached a new height against Boston College from beyond the arc, finishing with a career-high four 3-pointers.
As for the final piece of the guard trio, Roach may not have had a spectacular moment or career-high like his two counterparts, but the Virginia native did lead Duke with five assists and showed he isn’t afraid to be creative in order to find his teammates open looks. A perfect example of this came at the 9:20 mark in the first half, when Roach drove and kicked a perfect, cross-court bounce pass to Steward for an open three.
On a micro level, neither of these three guards had their best individual performance of the season, but that’s not what matters at this point of the year. Once the postseason hits, what’s important is winning, and Duke’s guard trio possesses an X-Factor capability that pays a premium in the month of March.
Freshman center Mark Williams has typically been the player the Blue Devils turn to for a spark, but as teams key in on him and Hurt, it’s going to be up to the guards to use each of their unique skill sets to continue to build the momentum Duke gained Tuesday.
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“I hope we can carry [the momentum] over. You never know about momentum. Obviously we played really well today. We had fun playing,” Krzyzewski said. “After losing three games in a row—two tough ones and then [North] Carolina really kicked us—you can be down. I didn’t think our team was down. They really practiced well yesterday.”
Duke continues its ACC tournament run Wednesday against Louisville, a team the Blue Devils have already lost to twice this season. Roach and Steward have particularly struggled against experienced Cardinal guards Carlik Jones and David Johnson, so whether or not Duke’s young duo can build on their solid play Tuesday will be essential for the Blue Devils.