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Duke men's basketball fends off Campbell

Sophomore guard Jeremy Roach showed off his ability to finish at the rim all game long.
Sophomore guard Jeremy Roach showed off his ability to finish at the rim all game long.

The best teams shine through it all, even when it isn’t their brightest night.

No. 9 Duke topped Campbell Saturday evening in the final outing of the Veterans Day Weekend Showcase, squeaking by the visitors in the first half before pulling away in the second half for a 67-56 win. Behind a small-ball lineup and a balanced scoring performance, the Blue Devils escaped on the second night of a back-to-back after surviving a sequence of early missteps and an injury scare to junior forward Wendell Moore Jr. on the game’s opening play. Still, the Blue Devils came out on the right side of things after 40 minutes, moving to 3-0 on the season.

“The main thing is just the experience of playing against older teams that are going to be ahead of you as far as their ability to work together, because they’ve worked together,” said head coach Mike Krzyzewski after the game. “In the military, you call it on-the-job training. No matter what you would do in the classroom, or in practice, there’s nothing like on the job.”

Following a mixed bag of a first half that saw the Blue Devils (3-0) trail for essentially the first time all season, Duke leaned into small-ball in the second half to get past Campbell (2-1). The Fighting Camels took it to the Blue Devils early, taking a 10-point lead just moments into the game and looking every bit the part as the older, more experienced team. Duke ultimately recovered, using a sturdy second-half defensive performance and polished offensive showing to overpower the surprisingly tenacious Fighting Camels.

If Moore proved to be Duke’s motor Friday night, he only reinforced that with his sudden absence and subsequent return Saturday. The Blue Devils looked disjointed on both ends without their junior captain after Moore went down with an apparent knee injury on the opening play, struggling to deny the Fighting Camels open looks and create open looks for themselves on the offensive end.

“I knew I was ready to play right away,” said Moore of his injury. “As long as I knew I could walk and I could run a little bit, I was going to go back out there either way.”

Moore’s return, however, coincided with a prolonged Duke run that helped turn an 18-8 deficit into an eventual 22-21 lead and 33-29 halftime advantage. Within moments of reentering the game, the Charlotte native picked Campbell forward Jesús Carralero’s pocket and took the ball end to end for an acrobatic layup, erasing any concern over what looked like a potentially serious injury in the early going. By the end of the half, it was as if Moore hadn’t missed a beat: he tallied eight points, two 3-pointers and led the team in plus-minus at the break.

“[Moore], in some respects, is our most important player,” said Krzyzewski. “Because what you see physically, you just said, he really touches everything, he inbounds the ball, he calls our sets, he scores, he defends, but the other thing he does is he leads. He’s our leader. And I think he does all those other things better because he’s our leader.”

The rest of the Blue Devils came alive after halftime, with Duke’s shooters fueling a second-half run that would give the team a 12-point lead and put the Fighting Camels away for good. Much like the first half, it was not all rainbows and butterflies, but it was enough to get the job done and give Duke the win on its home floor.

“Obviously we would have liked to come out and take care of business right away,” senior Joey Baker said. “But a tough game like that isn’t the worst thing for us in terms of just gathering that experience.”

That first-half run may have had Moore’s fingerprints all over it, but it would not have been possible without the play of sophomore guard Jeremy Roach. Roach stepped up early in the game with star freshmen Trevor Keels and Paolo Banchero struggling to get started on offense and Moore ailing, picking up where he left off against Army in a seven-point first half. After kicking off Duke’s run with a layup plus the foul, he drove the lane to give the Blue Devils their first lead since 5-4 at 22-21.

“I thought Jeremy [Roach] played an outstanding game,” said Krzyzewski.

The two Duke veterans turned in impressive first-half performances, but the team as a whole had trouble separating from the visiting side, even after retaking the lead with over eight minutes until halftime. The experienced, smaller Fighting Camels shot just 35.5% through the first 20 minutes, but 10 offensive rebounds and persistent 3-point shooting helped them stay neck and neck with the Blue Devils. 

To counter, Duke had its best 3-point performance to date, hitting 5-of-11 threes as Moore and Keels buried two apiece. Krzyzewski elected to go relatively small for much of the half—Mark Williams and Theo John combined for just 11 minutes—and the team’s inclination to use the 3-point line reflected that.

Krzyzewski evidently liked what he saw in the first half, as he sent out Baker in place of Williams to start the game’s final 20 minutes. The decision to surround Banchero with four capable shooters paid off quickly, with the freshman running the offense down low and the team maintaining control of things early. The star freshman finished the game with a team-high 18 points, nine of which came after the break. 

“It’s not like our big guys weren’t playing well, but we didn’t have enough room to operate and they were taking guys out on the court,” said Krzyzewski of his lineup decision. “So we just decided, [at] about 10 minutes or so, [to] just say forget it, just we got to do something different.”

Even with a smaller lineup, things got off to a slow start in the second half for both sides as the Blue Devils and Fighting Camels remained at a stalemate with one another. But consecutive triples by Baker and Roach helped force a Campbell timeout with Duke ahead 45-38—its biggest lead of the game.

Williams’ absence was certainly notable, especially in the second half. After a somewhat disappointing start to the 2021-22 campaign, the sophomore center fell victim to Krzyzewski’s small-ball decision, playing just six first-half minutes before sitting out the remainder of the game. The seven-footer saw little playing time early as a freshman, but there’s no denying that this latest development is a slightly disappointing one for the preseason Second-Team All-ACC selection.

“That’s good, in your third game of the season, to be able to play in this type of game is excellent for us,” Krzyzewski said. “I didn’t feel that way when we had a four-point lead and they had the ball late in the game, but it feels a lot better that we played in this game right now.”

At game’s end, Duke stood tall as its perfect record remained intact. The team gets a short rest before putting that record to the test again Tuesday evening, this time against Gardner-Webb at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

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