Coach K walked out of the tunnel much the same as he had hundreds of times before. But something was special about this one.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils hosted Army in Cameron Indoor Stadium for Krzyzewski’s final home opener, and what better way to kick off this home stretch than to play against the school where it all began for Krzyzewski. It wasn’t Duke’s most polished game of basketball, but the Blue Devils worked their way to a 82-56 win behind 18 points from Paolo Banchero and another all-around performance from Wendell Moore Jr.
"Wendell, I've been saying since the summer time, he's a great, great player. I think real highly of his game, always have. His stat sheet spoke for itself. He does it all. He's hitting threes, getting his teammates involved, rebounding, defending scoring, he's doing it all tonight," Banchero said. "If he's playing like that all season I think we're gonna be real hard to beat."
Simply put, Moore did it all.
The junior ended with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to record Duke’s fifth triple-double in program history and first since RJ Barrett did so against N.C. State in 2019, furthering his case that the third time really is the charm. The junior did damage from the perimeter and the inside on offense and although he has not always been able to get all the parts of his game firing in unison, this year has been a whole new story.
"I was really just going out there and hooping," Moore said. "My teammates believed in me and my teammates hit shots."
It wasn’t all highlight worthy performances for Duke though.
To start the second half, it looked as if the Blue Devils had washed away their first-half woes. Banchero swiped the ball on the third Army possession of the half and played catch with Jeremy Roach to set himself up with the alley oop to get Cameron Indoor Stadium rocking.
"The crowd has a real effect on the game, it really gets you going when you most need it," Banchero said.
And if that wasn’t enough, Banchero followed it up a few possessions later. The Seattle native took a couple jab steps, spun once and created another dunk for himself that just may have upstaged the first one.
But Army continued to hang around, finding ways to create an open look from three or work an easy layup to the inside to keep things just interesting enough to make Duke fans uneasy. Much of that credit has to be given to Jalen Rucker who ended with 19 points and one assist.
Ultimately, the Black Knights’ efforts proved to be futile, with the knockout punch for Army coming with just under 13 minutes remaining in the game, when an unmarked Mark Williams rose up well above the rim to corral a Moore feed and slam it home. That put Duke up 49-34, and although the duo of Rucker and Josh Caldwell fought, the talent of Duke’s roster was too much.
"I thought we passed and stood. And we don't practice that way," Krzyzewski said of the stagnant offense, adding in that they work cutting and ball movement almost every day at practice.
The game was close for most of the first half, but Duke (2-0) strung together enough quality basketball plays to take a 13-point lead into halftime, none being more important than Moore’s steal five minutes into the game.
Army (1-1) had rattled off a 9-0 run and Duke was in need of a spark, so Moore swiped the ball from Jordan Coleman at the 14:18 mark and hammered home a one-handed slam to inject some needed momentum into a Duke offense that had not scored in three minutes.
Despite two consecutive makes from beyond the arc to open up, Duke needed more than that Moore dunk to get itself right in the first half. The Blue Devils tallied eight turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, and it took some more of the stingy defense that they have shown so far to give Duke the comfortable 13-point lead at halftime.
Freshman guard Trevor Keels led that defensive barrage with three steals in the first half and six total, but five other Blue Devils logged a steal of their own in those opening 20 minutes. And that’s not even including the numerous tipped passes and blocks from the big men that kept the Army offense from ever fully clicking. That defense didn’t dwindle during the second half either, with Duke adding in another steal and using its hard-nosed defense to make the final score lopsided.
"Overall, we played really good defense," Krzyzewski said. "We forced 21 turnovers and gave up 56 points, that's good."
The Blue Devils don’t have much time to bask in the glory of this win as they take on Campbell Saturday in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
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Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.