As the first half drew to a close on Thursday, the court belonged to Michael Almonacy.
Appalachian State’s senior guard had 17 points, and no Duke player had notched more than nine. Although Duke was up by 13 going into the break, the lead had changed several times during the half.
Wendell Moore Jr. wasn’t having it.
Moore scored 14 second-half points to bring his total to 21 and power the Blue Devils to a 25-point victory against the Mountaineers. The junior forward shot 8-of-11 from the floor with four triples, adding five rebounds and six assists over 32 minutes.
His dominant performance continued a breakout season that is eclipsing memories of the rough patches he endured last year. The work he put in during the offseason has made his newfound efficiency possible, head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
“He’s an inch taller. He’s changed how he’s run, his explosiveness. He’s a really good athlete right now,” Krzyzewski said in the postgame press conference.
Moore has averaged 17 points per game this year and five assists, up from 9.7 and 2.7 last season. He’s shooting 56.7% from the floor, 15 percentage points higher than last year.
That efficiency comes down to trusting the work he’s putting in, Moore said.
“The work I put in, I mean I know I do enough, I know I’m talented enough,” he said. “... Just trusting myself, being confident in myself, and my teammates give me a lot of that confidence as well.”
On Thursday, Moore’s performance helped the Blue Devils overcome a rough start that saw Appalachian State lead with just over nine minutes to play in the first half. The Mountaineers put up a particularly tough fight on the glass, pulling down 31 rebounds while the Blue Devils grabbed 30.
Even after taking the lead, Duke struggled to pull away and was just one point ahead with four minutes to play in the first half. That’s when Moore started to supply the energy the team was lacking.
He drained a 3-pointer to extend the lead to four. Mark Williams put down a dunk, and Moore responded with a dunk of his own. A few plays later, Duke led 50-37 heading into halftime.
Appalachian State came out swinging in the second half and cut the lead to five. Duke pulled away again after AJ Griffin, Jeremy Roach and Moore sank back-to-back-to-back triples.
“Doesn’t matter who scores, doesn’t matter who makes the pass,” Moore said of the team’s approach. “As long as Duke scores, we’re good.”
With just under six minutes to play, Moore slammed down his second dunk of the night. The Cameron Crazies went wild, and Duke never looked back on the way to a 92-67 win. With Almonacy silent in the second half, it was clear that Cameron Indoor Stadium belonged to the Blue Devils once again.
Moore’s impressive performance was boosted by a deep rotation and solid games from his teammates. Nine Blue Devils made their mark in the scoring column, with Paolo Banchero scoring 16 and Trevor Keels putting up 11.
Roach added 10 points of his own, while Williams had six points and three blocks.
Krzyzewski praised Moore’s performance after the game, both on offense and defense. He also noted that he’d like to see Moore shoot a bit more.
“I think he tonight, early, passed up rhythm shots. Paolo did, and he did,” Krzyzewski said. “... There’s a rhythm to the game, and it’s beautiful if you can develop a rhythm and then react to it, and when you go against it you’re not going to then score.”
As Moore continues his breakout year, his teammates have high praise for the junior captain’s role on the team.
“Literally the first week of practice, he was the most vocal, talking to everybody, and in practice he was doing what he’s doing now,” Banchero said, adding that he tweeted this summer that Moore would surprise fans this season. “So I’ve noticed it from the very get-go.”
Roach said he’s seen Moore’s confidence grow.
“Just watching from his freshman year to sophomore year, he was kind of indecisive about what he was going to do, didn’t know if he was the leader of the team,” the sophomore guard said. “But now he’s taken that big step, and he’s our leader, and he’s having a hell of a year this year.”
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Matthew Griffin was editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 116th volume.