N.C. State entered Saturday’s game looking for their third ACC win. They didn’t find it, and instead the Wolfpack were greeted with Mark Williams’ third double-double of the season.
No. 8 Duke opened up the second half with a Mark Williams and-one, Paolo Banchero tough finish, a Trevor Keels steal and lay-up and an N.C. State timeout. There was no looking back once the momentum was rolling and the Blue Devils dominated their way to a 88-73 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"I thought overall, we did a good job defensively, our big guys were terrific. Mark almost had a triple-double and then Theo, Theo really contributed, especially in that first half where we got a little bit of a lead," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "And what we got 29 points and 12 rebounds and nine blocks from our bigs? Okay, let's get that every game."
The interior game was working the whole way for the Blue Devils (14-2, 3-1 in ACC). They attacked the rim over and over, which opened the door for big games from Williams, Keels and Banchero.
Just a few minutes later, a Williams volleyball swat into the seat and “pump up the noise” gesture into the crowd had the whole stadium rocking. Add that to the not one, not two, but three and-one opportunities and Williams may have been the single largest contributor to crowd noise all day.
"I think we really stressed the importance of protecting the rim today," Williams said. "[The Wolfpack] are team that likes to drive to the basket a lot, so I think that was just something I really focused on today."
Now about that Williams stat line. Nineteen points on 9-of-12 shooting, 11 rebounds and eight blocks to make a forceful afternoon for the big man. Keels added 12 points and nine assists, and Banchero was back to his old tricks once again, playing the typical role of “matchup nightmare.” He finished the game with 21, mostly via the crafty layup or vicious slam.
"I thought Trevor played his best game since the beginning of the season," Krzyzewski said. "His nine assists and five steals... he made a couple passes to Mark when the momentum was changing or could have changed... Mark made good catches and finishes."
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the absence of AJ Griffin from the score sheet. Griffin exploded against Wake Forest last game and seemed primed to carry his momentum into today. He totaled just three points, but Duke was still able to win sizably, hinting at its extreme roster depth.
Five Blue Devil players finished in double scoring figures. And while the stars showed out for Duke, the ability to score from any position was prevalent. Especially with the lack of points from Griffin, it was encouraging to see Wendell Moore Jr. regain some traction and Theo John reach 10 points for the first time in a Blue Devil uniform.
"Today, our bench really helped us," Krzyzewski explained. "I thought Joey gave us really good minutes. Jeremy didn't give us points, but he gave us defense and four assists and no turnovers. And then obviously Theo [played well]."
Free-throw shooting remained a big issue for the Blue Devils, despite the win. Duke left 10 points on the line after going just 14-of-24 from the charity stripe. This game displayed the capabilities of a Blue Devil team firing on all cylinders, but showed there’s certainly room for improvement.
That was especially true after a difficult first half. Despite walking into the locker room with a nine-point lead, it felt like much of the first half was a back-and-forth affair, with neither team displaying much defensive dominance.
Instead, the teams combined for 81 first-half points in an offensive explosion. Both teams were having their ways at the rim with Duke shooting 57.6% from the field and N.C. State (9-9, 2-5) shooting 47.1%—surprisingly high numbers in a half where the teams shot a combined 5-of-18 from beyond the arc.
The game started extremely slow for Krzyzewski’s squad as Duke compounded empty possessions with poor defense to fall behind 15-8 early in the first half. It wasn’t until a Crazies-inducing Keels 3-pointer capped off a 7-0 run that the Blue Devils were able to get the game back up.
Theo John’s presence off the bench provided a huge boost for Duke. His physicality was able to exploit the weak Wolfpack interior defense and guide the Blue Devils' offensive strategy for the remainder of the game. John hadn’t surpassed 10 minutes in any of the last four games, and his hunger to see the court was definitely prevalent today.
"I think [John's performance] does a world of good and it gives us what we had hoped to have all season long—when Mark was out, to have a veteran center, a veteran five-man in there," Krzyzewski said. "I think today he was just looking to compete and it just came to him."
Duke hits the road for its next game against Florida State Tuesday.
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