And the show goes on.
After Duke had two canceled rendezvouses with Cleveland State and Loyola Maryland due to positive COVID-19 cases within their programs, in-state neighbor Elon filled the slot a day before the tipoff. For the bulk of Blue Devil fans that traveled from all across the country, their rental cars, hotel fees and tickets did not go down the drain as No. 2 Duke routed the Phoenix 87-56.
“Thank God that we have the game, ” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “So many people were here from all over the country. And it was great that Elon made it possible.”
Multiple Blue Devils (10-1) continued their recent red hot form and the team shot a 49% mark from the field to make sure the Phoenix (3-9) had no chance of rising from the ashes.
After a rough stretch in November when his shooting clip dipped, freshman guard Trevor Keels rejuvenated himself, finishing the two earlier games this week with a combined 25 points on 40% shooting from beyond the arc. He took that intensity to another level in the first half against Elon, making plays on both ends of the floor and utilizing his size advantage to perfection en route to 15 points on a 70% clip from the field. He went on to cap the afternoon with 19 points and three steals.
“I think my shot for sure went on vacation a little bit,” Keels said. “The past two weeks just getting in the gym a lot and not worrying about my shot too much [helped].”
As it stands, Wendell Moore Jr. is the only player in the nation with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists per night while shooting above 50% from the field. The junior captain did not disappoint Saturday afternoon, finishing layups with his regular efficiency and leading the team in the assist column with five. His three defensive rebounds in the game also helped him reach a career milestone with 200 total defensive boards.
The stellar individual performances started early, with freshman Paolo Banchero making his presence known halfway through the first half. At the 9:35 mark, Elon guard Hunter McIntosh’s frustrated effort to shake off the Duke defense resulted in him settling for a contested midrange jumper from the free throw line. Banchero rose up and forcefully blocked the shot, leading to Keels taking off and finishing the fast break to put Duke up 26-11. Cameron Indoor Stadium erupted and on the play, Jeremy Roach notched an assist to earn him his 100th collegiate dime.
The rest of the game was mostly smooth-sailing for Duke, as the second half was characterized by a long Phoenix scoring drought and their intermittent turnovers that resulted in easy fastbreaks for the Blue Devils. During the six-minute stretch from 14:58 to 8:29 in the final 20 minutes, Elon only managed to come away with one field goal. Meanwhile, confidence on Duke’s end was rising as the Blue Devils pushed the score margin gradually over 30 points with multiple trips to the free throw line.
Before Saturday’s game, Elon ranked third nationally in terms of personal fouls committed per game, while Duke, a physically-imposing squad that features two dominant post operators in the starting lineup, had the highest free throw percentage in the ACC. The mixture of Elon’s lack of defensive discipline and Duke’s high conversion rate at the charity stripe laid out an easy path to victory for the Blue Devils: attack the basket.
“Especially today we just had to be a little more aggressive, ” said sophomore center Mark Williams, who scored eight points. “I would say [attacking the basket] was definitely a focal point. And everybody did a good job rebounding the ball as well.”
And undoubtedly, the primary ball handlers in Moore and Roach executed that game plan to perfection. Even though Duke’s hot hand at the line did not carry over to this game as it shot a subpar 60% from the free throw line, its dominance inside was backed up by a glaring 46 points in the paint, 24 more than the Phoenix.
The primary enforcer in the paint for the Blue Devils was undoubtedly Banchero. With seven minutes left in the first half, the freshman caught the ball in his regular spot in the low post. An effortless spin helped him wrap around his defender and finish the basket along with a whistle that sent him to the line. Banchero would carry on that aggressiveness in the paint throughout the afternoon as he went to the line seven times.
For the most part of the first half, Elon was struggling to deal with the physicality Duke threw at it, turning the ball over easily and failing to put up a shot before the shot clock expired on multiple occasions. Unsurprisingly a Phoenix squad that looked utterly outmatched on the floor trailed 44-26 at the half. Elon would go on to commit a season-high 24 turnovers, while Duke tied its steal record this season at 14.
“Our defense is not at that level [of past great teams of this program], but with that potential,” Krzyzewski said. “We've done it in the nonconference. Let's see if we can do it against ACC.”
Now that the Blue Devils have cruised effortlessly past three nonconference opponents this week with a combined scoring margin of 97 points, they look poised to pick up the gauntlet and enter conference battles.
The first test will come Wednesday against Virginia Tech at Cameron Indoor before the team leaves for a two-game road trip after Christmas.
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