Faster than a speeding bullet.
The Blue Devils took care of business in Saturday’s exhibition game, racing past Winston-Salem State 106-38 in a contest that Duke led by 50 points at the half. Duke came ready to play, riding a balanced performance on both ends of the floor to an impressive display of depth and team cohesion in the season’s earliest stage. With a two-way clinic by sophomore center Mark Williams, an easy 21 points by freshman sensation Paolo Banchero and the surprising return of AJ Griffin, it was the type of game that the Blue Devils can take a lot away from.
“I thought our guys played hard and well and sharp the whole time,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. “They shared the ball well to get 26 assists, and there [were] a few exchanges that were just beautiful and we didn’t hit the shot. So, if that becomes a characteristic of the team, then we have a chance to be real good.”
Duke came out of the gates at a blistering pace Saturday afternoon, jumping out to a large lead within the first few minutes and effectively deciding the game’s outcome by Krzyzewski’s first substitution. It would have been understandable if the Blue Devils mailed it in from there, with Krzyzewski electing to tinker with lineup combinations and rest his starters rather than press on in an ultimately meaningless matchup.
Instead, Krzyzewski sent out Griffin—a surprise inclusion after the freshman sprained his knee Oct. 8—with the first wave of substitutes, signifying that the Blue Devils had no plans to take the rest of the afternoon off. Duke stayed the course, getting out in transition and leaning on reliable ball handling and a remarkable 67.6% shooting clip to tally 63 first half points in a breathtaking tour de force.
“I think one of the strengths of our team is [in] the group that starts, we really have four ball handlers,” Krzyzewski said. “Including Paolo, so that's why we advance the ball fast. When one of those guys gets it, you’re not waiting to throw it to somebody to bring it up. They bring it up.”
If there was one defining characteristic of Duke’s early run, it was pace. The Rams shot just 4-of-30 in the opening frame, and it felt as if each subsequent miss ended up heading the other way in a hurry with any of Jeremy Roach, Trevor Keels, Wendell Moore or Banchero at the controls. Oddly enough, Williams—the only omission in the starting five from that list—was perhaps the greatest beneficiary of Duke’s high-octane attack, rim-running his way to 10 points on perfect shooting in the first half.
“We don’t try to put a position on ourselves. We don’t really call it point guard, shooting guard, small forward,” Keels said. “All four of us can bring the ball up the court, including Paolo… I think that’s why we can play fast.”
It was that positionless nature that fueled the Blue Devils Saturday, but freshman Jaylen Blakes came in and commanded the game at point guard, especially in the second half. Like his counterparts in the starting lineup, Blakes—who Krzyzewski called the team’s fifth ball handler after the game—had success pushing the pace.
During one standout sequence, Blakes ran the floor for a chasedown block. Moments later, he hauled in a missed Winston-Salem State 3-pointer, stepped out from under the basket, and perfectly threaded the needle to Joey Baker in the other corner for a triple. In his 20 minutes of playing time—second only to Roach on the team—Blakes added tough defense to an already successful outing.
“We really defended them well without fouling. Our starting perimeter, and Jaylen, especially really used their bodies well, and not their hands, they move their feet, use their bodies,” Krzyzewski said. “Jaylen did a good job.”
Zooming out, the Blue Devils accomplished exactly what they presumably hoped to in Saturday’s exhibition, gaining valuable playing time and looking like a cohesive unit to boot. Externally, though, Saturday was just a tease of how high these Blue Devils can fly, and much of that starts with how fast they can go. The competition will, of course, get a great deal tougher, but it is a promising start nonetheless.
“The sky’s the limit for us,” Banchero said. “We just got to continue to lock in and play with each other, share the ball and play fast, play hard.
“I can’t put a ceiling on our season.”
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.