After every Duke men's basketball game, the Blue Zone breaks it down with one player, one word and one stat. With the Blue Devils' date with Wake Forest in the rearview mirror, we take a look at their whirlwind 76-74 victory:
One player: Mark Williams
It makes sense that Mark Williams would be voted as the player of the game after Tuesday’s performance. Besides hitting the game-winning bucket despite a nerve-wracking goaltending review, he filled up the stat sheet in other areas as well. The center out of Virginia Beach, Va., scored 16 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for yet another double-double, as well as adding an assist and a block to his tally.
However, the impact he had on the game goes beyond an initial glance at the stat sheet. Facing a Wake Forest team that plays with no true center—7-foot Dallas Walton is listed as a power forward—can pose a bit of a challenge for a true paint protector like Williams. Walton’s 3-point shooting ability exposed a bit of a deficiency in the ACC Defensive Player of the Year hopeful's game, as he can struggle outside of the paint. Despite being stretched out of his comfort zone, however, Williams posted a team-best plus-minus of eight by the end of the game, with the next highest members of the Blue Devils being Wendell Moore and Trevor Keels, both of whom were plus-two. By all definitions of the title, Mark Williams was the Player of the Game for Duke Tuesday.
One word: Closing
At this point in the season, Duke should be considered experienced. It has played and beaten some of the top teams in this country in impressive fashion. Yet, for whatever reason, the ACC has posed a different challenge for the Blue Devils. Every single team has to give Duke their best shot night after night in order to have a chance to make the tournament, and it is starting to show.
The problem with closing first reared its head during the loss against Ohio State, when the Blue Devils blew a double-digit lead. And Tuesday was another example of the struggle. Up 19 against the Demon Deacons with 14:46 left in the second half, it had appeared that the No. 9 team in the country could just coast through the rest of the game. You can never really take your foot off the pedal though, and the Blue Devils did. Thus, they found themselves tied at 74 with 20 seconds left. The biggest concern? The Blue Devils had reached 74 points with 3:58 on the clock. Offensive struggles down the stretch almost cost Duke what should’ve been an easy win, and unfortunately, it was not the first time this season. Luckily this time, it escaped with the win.
One stat: Zero first-half points
Even though he ended the game with 13 points, freshman Paolo Banchero gave way to concerns about his lack of aggression for large stretches of the game. He finished the first half with zero points, shooting 0-for-3, tied with freshman Trevor Keels for the least amount of shots taken by a starter in the first half. While some of that can be attributed to his early foul trouble, Banchero is still expected to produce more as the potential ACC Freshman of the Year.
Off-nights happen from time to time, but Tuesday marks another tally in a difficult stretch of games for the star out of Seattle. With all of the tools he has to produce and score in different ways, his few shot attempts can be frustrating. By the end of the game, Banchero had put up 13, which was still under his average but impressive after the slow start. He also added in six assists, three rebounds, two steals and two blocks. There is no question that Banchero is a star, impacting the game in all facets, but his apparent inconsistency can raise questions.
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