Next stop, Las Vegas.
In a high-octane undercard to the Duke-Gonzaga showdown later this week, the Blue Devils pulled away in the second half en route to a 107-81 victory against The Citadel. While the scrappy Bulldogs made it interesting with 18 threes, No. 5 Duke—thanks to Wendell Moore Jr. and Paolo Banchero racking up a combined 50 points, 16 rebounds and 15 assists—simply landed too many blows on this night.
"Good win for us, because [The Citadel] played really well.... The start of the second half our defense was great and we got that run," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
That run, which served as the proverbial knockout punch, arrived with just under 17 minutes left on the clock, as a two-man game between Moore and Mark Williams kickstarted an 8-0 run to stretch the Duke lead to 19. Before long, the Blue Devils held a 77-51 advantage, and that was that.
"I feel like once we turned that around, we kinda ran them off the 3-point line," Moore said on the changes the Blue Devils made in the second half. "So that kinda helped us get out in transition, get some easy buckets."
The duo of Moore and Banchero was simply superb in front of a Cameron crowd that was ready for some pre-Thanksgiving theatrics. The junior wing had no quit in him, attacking the basket constantly and staying ready to pull the trigger on the perimeter.
Banchero, on the other hand, had the dominant outing that analysts have been predicting. The Seattle native was a force in the low post extended and showed off some nifty playmaking abilities—particularly on a lob to Williams that made it 93-69 and pushed the noise level into overdrive.
"Paolo was really strong with the ball tonight, it's something he's working on," Krzyzewski said. "We're a different team when he's like that."
A scary scene occurred in the first few minutes, as Bulldog head coach Duggar Baucom collapsed on the sideline and had to be helped off the floor. Baucom was subsequently taken to Duke Hospital for evaluation, but acting head coach Jack Castleberry gave an encouraging update on the seventh-year coach postgame, saying that "all things considered, as good as it can be. We're hearing that things are positive, but he's in good spirits."
The first half was all the scoring, all the time—and it was the Blue Devils (6-0) who struck first. Whether it was Moore, Jeremy Roach, Trevor Keels or even Banchero, Duke kept finding the open guy and connecting from distance early. Just over two minutes in, the Blue Devils led 9-2 after an initial early barrage of triples.
But The Citadel (3-2) never heard a bell in the early going, going to work on the other end with a bevy of cuts to exploit the gaps in the Duke man-to-man. Overplaying the help side was a dilemma for the Blue Devils earlier in the season against Campbell as well, and Krzyzewski and company appeared to adjust as the opening half wore on.
But that resulted in the Bulldogs having free reign to fire from beyond the arc, and a seemingly never-ending string of first half defensive possessions resulted in pure frustration for Duke. Banchero even slammed the ball down after a Hayden Brown triple, with Krzyzewski responding by sending out the small-ball lineup of Roach, Keels, Moore, Griffin and Banchero in order to switch one through five.
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"Shoot a lot of threes. Hope they go in," Castleberry quipped on the program's offensive strategy. "We try to recruit guys that can shoot, we try to share the basketball and we try to get analytically-driven shots.
"I didn't think our defense was horrible on the three, they just knocked them down," Krzyzewski said on his team's job at defending the perimeter.
With just a 17-13 lead and the Bulldogs hanging tough through every Duke punch, a spark was needed for the hosts. That spark came in the form of an emphatic Theo John rejection, and the quick outlet that led to a Banchero triple from the right corner got the Cameron Crazies rocking. Moore finding Roach for a transition lay-in just a few seconds later was the icing on the cake of that sequence, and the Blue Devils had a little bit of cushion and some mojo.
Roach, after an uncharacteristic bagel in the scoring column Friday against Lafayette, controlled the pace to perfection alongside Keels and Moore in the backcourt. Depending on the flow of the contest, the Blue Devils were able to get out on the break and set up in the half court at will. For the entire game, Duke shot 48.6% from the field, turned it over just three times and were +16 in points off takeaways.
John, always the energizer, had perhaps his most impactful outing in a Duke jersey, with eight points, four boards, a block and a steal. Due to Williams dealing with foul trouble in the opening 20 minutes, the Marquette transfer was on the floor for 40% of the action.
As mentioned earlier, this was simply a prelude to what is on the docket in just a few days for the Blue Devils. Duke faces off against No. 1 Gonzaga this Friday at 10:30 p.m., in what is sure to be quite the prizefight.
"Just playing in front of that type of crowd, getting accustomed to being on that stage is huge," senior captain Joey Baker said on how the Blue Devils will approach the top-five clash. "So we'll be ready to go, we'll be ready to go against Gonzaga."
Max Rego is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor for The Chronicle's 117th volume.