After each Duke men's basketball game this season, check back here for the Player of the Game and more. Today, the Blue Zone dives into just how Paolo Banchero helped the Blue Devils flip the script in Tuesday night's narrow win against Clemson:
One player: Paolo Banchero
The ACC Freshman of the Week for the past two weeks made yet another statement Tuesday night. Freshman forward Paolo Banchero shot 8-for-15 and led the game in scoring with 19 points, finishing just shy of what would have been his ninth 20-point game this season. Banchero showcased his jaw-dropping talent in many facets of the game, scoring big buckets inside and grabbing seven rebounds while also adding two threes and four assists to his statline.
Diving deeper into Banchero’s impact, we should look at the amount of time he spent on the court, and most importantly, his impact while out there. In terms of playing time, Banchero recorded just the fourth-highest total minutes on the team with 29. This may raise some eyebrows considering that Banchero leads the team in scoring and rebounding and that he scored five points in the game’s first four minutes. Banchero found himself in foul trouble, however, getting called twice in the first five minutes. For a player of his talent, foul trouble is just about the only way to cause trouble, and Banchero has picked up unnecessary fouls on numerous occasions this season, most notably against Ohio State. Banchero displayed impressive restraint, though, as he avoided fouling for the remainder of the game. This foul issue is particularly important because the Blue Devils need Banchero’s versatility and skillset in late-game scenarios.
Speaking of late-game situations, arguably Banchero’s best play of the night was his bucket from the post with 13 seconds remaining. Duke has found itself on the heartbreaking side of close games this season, losing to both Miami and Florida State by one possession. In both of these games, the Blue Devils’ last shot was taken by someone other than Banchero. Make no mistake, these final shots were taken by some of Duke’s most talented players in freshman guard Trevor Keels and junior guard Wendell Moore Jr., but many fans have been calling for Banchero to take the last shot given his size and ability to score over any defender at will. Tuesday night was huge for the Blue Devils because not only did they find themselves on the right end of a nail-biting one-possession game, but they did it through Banchero.
One word: Pressure
With arguably one of the most talented rosters in college basketball, this Duke team matches up well with almost every opponent it plays. In fact, coming into Tuesday night’s game with Clemson, the Blue Devils had beaten all but four of their opponents by eight or more points. However, in these four games, Duke won just once. The Blue Devils could not seem to get a stop or a bucket when everything was on the line, giving up heroic shots to Ohio State’s EJ Lidell, Miami’s Charlie Moore and Florida State’s RayQuan Evans. Duke, on the other hand, could not seem to score when it needed to in these final possessions.
The Blue Devils changed that narrative tonight, entering the final three minutes tied with the Tigers and ultimately coming out with a win. Duke got two critical stops by forcing Clemson into sub-par 3-point attempts and two key scores from Banchero and Joey Baker effectively sealed the game.
Jeremy Roach’s playmaking ability down the stretch was key for the Blue Devils. Roach hit back-to-back shots for Duke, a three with 4:44 to play and a jump shot with 3:08 remaining. These buckets were critical because they came following misses by both Banchero and Moore to give the team confidence and momentum. In addition to these huge buckets, Roach led the game with nine assists. Roach has been a key leader of this offense throughout the season and helped it flow through his consistent playmaking Tuesday night. The Blue Devils will look to Roach for more key leadership moving forward, especially in close games like this one.
One stat: 50% shooting from 3-point range
Entering the season, it appeared as if one of Duke’s biggest weaknesses would be its inability to shoot the three-ball. With elite playmakers inside such as sophomore center Mark Williams, graduate transfer forward Theo John and Banchero, Duke can score in the paint. However, opponents can play to this by making passes into these players difficult, as seen in Duke’s losses to Miami and Florida State. To combat this crowding of the paint, the Blue Devils need to hit shots on the outside to force their opponents to spread out. Thus, if Duke can hit its 3-point shots, it is helping itself not only by adding to the scoreboard directly but also by opening up driving lanes and space for future high-percentage shots close to the basket.
The 3-point shooting was huge for the Blue Devils in Tuesday's win, as they shot 10-for-20 from beyond the arc. That 50% 3-point shooting mark is very efficient and has to make head coach Mike Krzyzewski very pleased with his team’s shooting performance. Baker came off of the bench and shot 3-for-4 from downtown, hitting buckets when it counted, and Moore shot 3-for-5 from deep. This is the third consecutive game that Duke has hit ten 3-point shots or more, and the Blue Devils will look to continue this successful shooting moving forward.
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