SOUTH BEND, IND.—The underdog story doesn’t always come true.
The Notre Dame faithful filled Purcell Pavilion for the 7 p.m. Monday night tipoff and even before the game began, the hooting and hollering echoed throughout the arena. But despite the Fighting Irish having won 10 of their last 11 and skyrocketing up the ACC pecking order, Duke won 57-43 to hold Notre Dame to the lowest point total of any opponent the Blue Devils have played this year.
"We played really good defense. And to me that was the story of the game and with a one-day preparation—[Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey's] team can be an offensive juggernaut," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They've been playing so well and they're old and together. Tonight we were able to defend them."
The efficiency may not have been there early in the game Monday night, but there was no doubt freshman forward Paolo Banchero was the best player on the floor. The Seattle native finished with 21 points on a 10-of-22 mark from the field along with nine rebounds.
Duke (18-3, 8-2 in the ACC) came out of halftime with a 9-4 run, forcing Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey to call an early timeout. AJ Griffin started off the second-half scoring, stroking a three from what is looking to be his favorite spot on the wing.
Immediately after Brey’s timeout, Duke picked up right where it left off. Banchero flicked the ball away from Notre Dame forward Dane Goodwin, and sunk a baseline jumper on the ensuing possession. He decided to do the same thing following the media timeout that came seconds after, putting Duke out to a 42-20 lead.
The Banchero takeover continued the rest of the half, whether it be with near-indefensible post moves or using his 6-foot-10 frame to block and rebound. Later on in the half, he showed off some moves from the elbow, converting on two pull-up jumpers with a hand in his face.
"Just coming out and cutting loose. The first half I was holding myself back, not taking the shots that I should have been," Banchero said of if there was anything that went on during halftime that led to his increased second-half efficiency. "Coach [K] came up to me when I sat down and just was like 'Shoot the ball, this is a game when you just got to shoot it.' So the second half just wanted to come out and not think about anything and just play."
Both squads hold some of the higher marks from 3-point range in the conference and yet early on, neither showed it off. They combined to go 1-of-7 from deep before the first media timeout and finished the first half 1-of-18 with the only trey coming from Banchero in the opening minutes.
Points were hard to come by in general in the first 10 minutes of the game, with Duke and Notre Dame (14-7, 7-3) shooting 35.3% and 18.8%, respectively.
Notre Dame got a boost from freshman forward Blake Wesley early on though. Wesley flicked the ball away from Moore out of the second media timeout, then proceeded to run the floor and slam home the transition dunk. Minutes later, Wesley followed that up with another steal, this time by intercepting a Wendell Moore Jr. pass at the top of the key, but Banchero swiped the ball back for the Blue Devils to quell that scoring effort.
Duke’s first half could be largely summed up by one Theo John play when he got switched onto Wesley at the wing at the 7:30 mark. Wesley recognized the mismatch and tried to give John the shake, but the big man hung with and stripped Wesley to stifle his attack on the rim.
As much as both teams struggled shooting early on, the Blue Devils pieced together a 9-0 run to close out the half. Freshman guard Trevor Keels ignited the run in his first game back since a lower leg injury he suffered against Florida State Jan. 18.
Keels started it off by drawing a foul and going 1-for-2 from the charity stripe. John grabbed the rebound from Keels’ second free throw, and the ball made its way back into the hands of Keels, who converted a tough finish in the paint. John continued to bring the energy too, swatting a Nate Laszewski layup attempt immediately after. Duke’s other graduate transfer announced his presence two possessions later, with Bates Jones faking a three and creating an easy path to the rim.
From then on, Keels took over initiating the offense. Keels and John ran a high screen and roll on the wing that led to a Keels assist and John basket, and seconds later Moore made a strategic back cut that Keels read to find him for the reverse layup.
"I was surprised where Trevor was today. He really helped us in the first half because we were kind of playing wild offensively and he settled us down," Krzyzewski said. "In the second half, we put some things in there where he had a chance to maybe get 12 points or whatever but you can tell it's 25 minutes, he'll be there. But having him back will help us, give us that depth on the perimeter."
Duke’s next bout is against North Carolina at the Dean Dome Saturday night.
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Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.