It’s still early, but Duke has taken it into high gear.
The Blue Devils defeated Lafayette 88-55 Friday at Cameron Indoor Stadium to snag a fifth-straight victory to start the season. From start to finish, Duke took the same aggressive approach it employed during its last win against Gardner-Webb to shoot and defend its way toward another win.
This one, like Tuesday’s game, was mostly smooth sailing, with no more than a few hiccups on both sides of the ball that didn’t threaten Duke much once it had already established a 14-point lead. It was another solid display on the glass and defense as the Blue Devils continue to cruise through the first portion of the nonconference slate.
"We talked about at halftime that the one consistent part of the game that you can have is to play good defense, and we've been playing great defense. And our offense affected our defense," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
The second half started just as the first half ended, as Lafayette managed to hit tough shots over Duke’s bigger lineup and convert from deep. Even with a poor start, the Blue Devils continued to fire away and ultimately helped Duke regain the momentum from the field and 3-point land that it had against Gardner-Webb. The tides really turned about four minutes into the second frame.
Junior forward Wendell Moore Jr., who finished with 23 points, came alive, pushing the offense to a faster pace as he scored eight points in the first five minutes alone. His one-minute, 10-second hot stretch alone brought Duke back to its largest lead of the night, and the Blue Devils never looked back.
Freshman forward Paolo Banchero came out of the break 3-for-4 and Moore went 6-for-7 from the field while freshman AJ Griffin shot 4-for-5 from deep. The Blue Devils finished the half with an astounding 22-for-37 clip from the field after going only 33.3% for the first, and extended the eight-point halftime lead to 33 by the final horn. The second half domination led Griffin to be Duke’s second-leading scorer with 18 of his own.
"[Krzyzewski] didn't want us to stop shooting because he knew that the shots we were getting were ones that we normally make," Moore said.
"I think we all know we have a chance and we all know that being selfish is never gonna get anywhere," Griffin added. "That's what it is at the end of the day, it's all about team basketball."
Mark Williams, the sophomore center, also continued his domination, making dunks and blocking shots to energize the crowd. The Virginia Beach, Va., native ultimately tallied his first double-double of the year finishing with 14 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks.
Staunch defense initially helped minimize the Leopards’ ability to get to the rim and get any easy baskets. It was a game-long trend, as an exemplary brief stretch midway through the first half featured back-to-back shot-clock violations and an airball on which Duke was able to capitalize.
The 27 first-half points to which the Blue Devils defense held Lafayette was close to a season-best, though a late half 8-0 run put some pressure on the Blue Devils to start knocking down their shots. Duke (5-0) held onto its lead in large part due to its ability to manufacture more attempts from the field off of turnovers and rebounding.
Just moments into the contest, freshman Trevor Keels converted the first of the team’s 12 threes to try to set the tone for Duke from the perimeter against a team that had allowed a 3-point clip of 45.0% to opponents. The Lafayette defense didn’t do much to prevent Duke’s high rate of 3-point shots, but with eight of its first nine shots not falling, Lafayette caught a number of breaks—most notably a poor 1-for-8 first-half shooting performance from Banchero—to keep the game in check.
"We couldn't hit a shot. We had some good looks...again, they were playing good defense, but even around the bucket...and we fell into that trap that can happen to basketball players or teams that you let that influence the next play," Krzyzewski said.
Rebounding had been one of Duke’s main issues entering the weekend, as the Blue Devils only outrebounded two of their four opponents entering Friday. That area got a boost Tuesday, and the Blue Devils look to be trending in the right direction with Friday’s win against Lafayette (0-4) tacked on. Even Blue Devil guards and wings got in on the action, collecting 19 offensive rebounds to extend possessions and minimize the damage from Duke’s poor 3-point mark. Duke’s low efficiency ultimately led to a third game in which Duke could claim the overall rebounding advantage.
"Just trying to stress the importance of rebounding the ball. So just going to the offensive glass every time—two hands on the ball, finishing through contact and stuff like that," Williams said.
The first several minutes of the game was the Mark Williams show, as the sophomore who got off to a surprisingly slow start to the year made a couple plays in transition and on the offensive glass to give Duke a sizable early 14-point lead.
Lafayette's briefly-employed 2-3 zone only benefited Banchero and Williams inside, as Banchero’s keen passing vision at the heart of the zone helped create options for Williams to cut to the basket. Having veteran forward Theo John in the game while Williams sat didn’t hurt, either, as John added his strength to the defense on top of four points and six rebounds of his own.
The Leopards stayed resilient and didn’t let the first half slip away as they cut a 14-point lead to only eight by halftime. The once-strong Duke defense somewhat eased up and created multiple open opportunities for Kyle Jenkins, who piled on 18 points on an efficient 7-for-11 shooting for the game.
But Jenkins’ effort alone was never going to be enough if Griffin and Moore got hot in the second half and busted the game open like they did.
The Blue Devils will see The Citadel Monday at 7:00 p.m. in its last matchup before traveling to Las Vegas for a date with Gonzaga.
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.