Over the first eight minutes Tuesday night, Duke was struggling.
Its offense looked out of sync, its defense allowed Gardner-Webb easy looks inside and another nonconference scare—a lá the Campbell game three days prior—seemed to be on the horizon.
Then the Blue Devils played perhaps the best basketball they’ve played all year, and that was that.
Duke dominated Gardner-Webb 92-52 Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, thanks to a stellar all-around performance that included six players in double-figure scoring. Freshman guard Trevor Keels and sophomore center Mark Williams especially impressed—Keels poured in 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 from three, with 16 of those points and all four of those threes coming in the first half, while Williams made up for a lackluster start to the year with a season-high 13 points and career-high six blocks in the blowout victory.
"It was kind of like an explosion—even I looked up, I said, 'Woah, we're up by 23,'" head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It was a closer game than that, but for that minute, two minutes, probably a couple minutes there, it just went kind of crazy for us. It was really good to see."
With Duke trailing 13-12 at the 12-minute mark of the first half, it looked like the home squad’s offensive struggles were continuing for another game. But then sophomore point guard Jeremy Roach found Williams inside for an easy dunk, and the Blue Devils showed just how fast they can turn on the jets. Duke outscored the Runnin’ Bulldogs 35-14 for the remainder of the half, with Williams dominating the paint on both sides of the ball and Keels draining threes at will.
Soon enough, the Blue Devils were in control, the Cameron Crazies were roaring and a stress-free second-half was in order.
"We started off slow a little bit," Keels said. "Gardner-Webb's a good team, so they came out and they punched us in the mouth. We bring it in, Wendell [Moore Jr.], our captain, he talked to us, he was just like, 'Everybody calm down.' We took a deep breath, and then we just got back to playing Duke basketball."
It wasn’t a typical gameday for the program, though.
The News and Observer’s Steve Wiseman reported Tuesday morning that junior Michael Savarino had been arrested and charged with DWI early Sunday morning, while star forward Paolo Banchero was charged with aiding and abetting DWI before being released at the scene. Krzyzewski released a statement in the report, Banchero started Tuesday’s contest and Savarino didn’t warm up or sit on the bench during the game.
"We had a violation of our standards, and we'll handle that internally" Krzyzewski said in the press conference after the game. "We already are handling it, but [it's] a violation of our standards."
"It's two different situations," Krzyzewski added in reference to the decision to start Banchero. "I mean, two entirely different situations. Headlines might make it look like it's the same—it's not. I think the decisions we made are in conjunction with our authorities and my superiors. And we're taking action, we took action and we will continue to take action."
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Banchero finished the game with 10 points and eight rebounds in 26 minutes of action.
Moore, Joey Baker and Roach joined the aforementioned trio in double digits with 14, 12 and 10 points, respectively. Baker’s 12 points tied for the most he’s scored since Dec. 2019.
Another aspect of Duke's offense that showed stark improvement was ball-movement. The Blue Devils assisted on 24 of their 36 field goals, with seven different players notching multiple assists. The main difference, again, was the team’s ability to find Williams above the rim—an especially welcoming sign after the Virginia native notched no points in six minutes against Campbell's five-guard lineup.
"For Mark, not to get down or look at it [badly]—he's really worked hard with [associate head coach Chris Carrawell and director of player development Amile Jefferson]," Krzyzewski said. "And he showed, the six blocks—he's just gotta learn about the physicality and initiate contact a little bit more. Tonight he did that a little bit more and it proved to be very good for him."
Junior guard Lance Terry led Garner-Webb with 15 points, while junior forward Kareem Reid followed suit with 14 points of his own.
Duke will wrap up the first portion of its home nonconference slate this Friday and Monday against Lafayette and The Citadel, respectively, before its highly-anticipated matchup with No. 1 Gonzaga on Black Friday in Las Vegas.