Sometimes, the solution is just staring you right in the face.
I could go on and on about all things that led to the sixth-ranked Blue Devils falling to Florida State, be it the lack of muscle on the defensive glass or the questionable decision by head coach Mike Krzyzewski to not to take his final timeout with 12.3 seconds remaining and Duke down just a measly point. But quite frankly, those all have to take a backseat to the true rallying cry from Tuesday night. Which is…
Let Paolo Cook.
It’s not that complex folks. When the Seattle native has the ball in his hands, good things happen. Banchero can breeze by defenders off the dribble, use his pro-ready frame to finish through contact and can dish it with the best of em. Which is why it makes zero logical sense that, for the first 15:47 of the second half, the Blue Devils’ most lethal weapon did not take a shot.
Wait, not even one? At this point, you might pull up another tab and watch the YouTube highlights, assuming that I’m lying to you. Yet amazingly, a wing triple to make it 63-58 Florida State with 4:13 left in regulation represented Banchero’s first field goal attempt since 5:42 remained in the opening period.
In a tightly-contested ACC battle, one that took place in the most hostile atmosphere the Blue Devils have faced since a loss to Ohio State, that simply can’t happen. Banchero kept calling for the rock in the low and high post, but Jeremy Roach and Wendell Moore Jr. continually reversed the ball and squandered chances to get it to a surefire top-three draft pick in single coverage.
For crying out loud, the McDonald’s All-American was being guarded by Cam’Ron Fletcher and Jalen Warley, who average out to roughly 6-foot-7 and just under 210 pounds, for extended stretches. Let. Him. Cook.
Just look at when Banchero took over late. Finally, through ball screens and dribble handoffs, the top freshman in the country, per CBS Sports, got involved. Once that happened, it was the old adage— “Get out of my way, it's time to dance.”
Starting at the 2:40 mark of regulation, Banchero slid past Caleb Mills and jammed a put-back, lobbed it to Mark Williams for a slam, found AJ Griffin slashing for a floater that tied it up at 65 and looked off Malik Osborne perfectly, as if he was Russell Wilson, to set up Williams for the go-ahead bucket. All that in a little over two minutes. I’m all for great ball movement and team basketball, but when a guy is in that sort of zone, you feed him.
Even in the extra stanza, when he seemed out of energy after dragging Duke into overtime, Banchero came through. He finished in traffic and knocked down a pair of free throws to give Duke leads with 1:05 and 36 seconds left. But when push came to shove, and the Blue Devils trailed by one on their final possession, Banchero inbounded it and never got the ball back. On a night that he dropped 20 points, 12 boards and seven helpers. Huh?
When you look at the contest in its totality, all is certainly not lost in Duke’s corner. Krzyzewski going to the 2-3 zone was the right move at the right time. Roach, Griffin and Joey Baker delivered in key spots. The Blue Devils even shot 43.5% from outside.
However, being outscored 30-17 over the first 15:47 of the second half was no accident. Duke could not buy a basket, and Leonard Hamilton’s group made life as tough as can be for the visitors on the offensive end.
Which is why it’s simply baffling that the Blue Devils did not rely on arguably the most potent fallback solution in college basketball. A solution that, quite literally, is staring you in the face, in the form of a 6-foot-10, 250-pound basketball savant.
Let Paolo Cook.
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Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.