The last time the Blue Devils played South Carolina State—a November 1998 120-56 home win—Bill Clinton was still president and Google was still running out of a garage. It’s safe to say a lot has changed in the world since then.
One thing that hasn’t, though, is Duke men’s basketball, who is still just as dominant.
At home in Cameron Indoor Stadium once again, the second-ranked Blue Devils handily toppled the Bulldogs 103-62 on the back of a strong all-around team performance.
"To me, this is a different phase of the season...You've got to be in this moment. The main thing is getting through and [getting] back in shape. Our guys were excited to play tonight and we were excited at the shoot around this morning," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of rebounding not only from playing the Buckeyes, but from finals week as well.
In the Blue Devils’ last game, they dropped a messy 71-66 road loss to Ohio State. While it still had some rust to shake off after two weeks without a game, Duke came out of the gate fast and furious looking for redemption.
In the first five minutes alone, center Mark Williams had two blocks, Trevor Keels made two threes and freshman Paolo Banchero got the stadium rocking with a huge fast break dunk. By the 13:30 mark, Duke (8-1) was up 20-10.
Really, the Blue Devils’ performance was a result of them focusing on what they do best: fast offense and heads-up team defense. Finishing the game with 11 steals, nine blocks and 33 defensive rebounds, Duke looked every bit the strong defensive team it has been billed as this season. On the other side of the court, the Blue Devils didn’t hold on to the ball, searching for a look at the basket as soon as possible and creating opportunities on the fast break.
"Playing off the ball. That was one of our weaknesses [before]. I guess you could say, in Ohio State it's just a lot of ball watching. We just kept on thinking [about] that in the back of our head and then just playing as a team as we always do," freshman AJ Griffin said of how they approached their offense Tuesday night.
While there are plenty of stats to illustrate how the Blue Devils scored circles around S.C. State (3-8), perhaps the most telling stat can be found in the Bulldogs' box score. At every corner of the court, the Blue Devils were too much for the Bulldogs to handle, forcing S.C. State to commit foul after foul. With a little over nine minutes left in the first half, the Bulldogs committed their seventh foul of the night and the Blue Devils were in the bonus. With 4:23 left in the half, Duke was in the double bonus, and unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Duke was on its game from the charity line, shooting 22-of-24.
Even if Duke hadn’t made any points from free throws, it still would’ve won because of its aggressive and accurate offense. Against Ohio State, the Blue Devils shot 38.5% from the field. Tuesday night they shot a confident 56%. While the Bulldogs didn’t pose nearly as formidable of a challenge as Ohio State’s EJ Liddell and company, the improved accuracy was encouraging nonetheless.
Even more notable, however, was the Blue Devils’ performance beyond the arc. Keels’ first two threes in the first five minutes served the double duty of hyping up the loyal fans in Cameron Indoor Stadium and setting the tone for how Duke would shoot from three. Eight different players sunk a shot from distance, the most of the season, and its final 3-point percentage of 56% was near double their 32.8% season clip.
"We got a lot of shots up for two weeks before this, and we've got some good shooters and thankfully we knocked them down. We all got open and made our shots," graduate transfer Bates Jones said of Duke's improvement from three.
The Blue Devil faithful always love to see high-scoring games like this one, but the Blue Devils themselves likely love it more. Eleven different players got on the board, and Duke had 47 points off the bench. Jones came into the game in the first half, drawing the foul that put Duke in the bonus for the first time and scoring seven points total.
Krzyzewski said, "I thought Bates really helped us a lot...I thought Bates and AJ [Griffin] really took some steps up today," and highlighted the unselfishness of the team.
Senior captain Joey Baker, a more expected substitution, also saw significant minutes, and finished with a season-high 13 points, and Griffin tied his most minutes of the season, scoring a career-high and team-leading 19 points along the way. In addition, as more players saw the court, the Crazies got to see head coach Mike Krzyzewski experiment with the lineup, like a small-ball combination with Banchero at the five and Griffin at the four. Notably, junior Michael Savarino took the court for the first time since being arrested for DWI-related charges Nov. 14 and notched three points.
While Duke’s bench got its opportunity to shine, arguably the more important light shined on starters Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels, who saw a huge resurgence after underperforming in recent games. While they both put up more points, nine and 14 with 43% and 50% marks from the field, respectively, they also were in control in other aspects of the game; Keels had three assists, and Roach had five steals.
Par for the course for him, Banchero had another exemplary night. With 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists, the Seattle native was on triple-double watch all night. While he couldn’t get all the way there, his contribution was still the centerpiece of the Blue Devils Tuesday night. As Duke fans have come to expect, he controlled the floor on both sides and elevated the team.
Overall, the Blue Devils proved they wouldn’t let one bad loss dictate their season, showing up to Cameron Indoor Stadium and playing their game. As their ACC slate draws ever closer, games like these get the Blue Devils back to basics plus some. Next they take on Appalachian State Thursday.
Looking ahead, Krzyzewski said, "It's a really good game and you've got to keep getting in better shape. We play App[alachian] State [and] Cleveland State, two veteran teams."
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Sasha Richie is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.