After each Duke men's basketball game this season, check back here for the Player of the Game and more. Today, the Blue Zone breaks down Wendell Moore Jr.'s performance and the rest of the Blue Devils' all-important win against Miami in the ACC tournament:
One player: Wendell Moore Jr.
When Miami took back the lead late in the second half, junior captain Wendell Moore Jr. made sure that the Hurricanes' lead would be short-lived. Miami guard Kameron McGusty hit a big three near the top of the key to put the Hurricanes on top 62-61 with 6:05 remaining in the gritty semifinal, and Moore showed tremendous poise by coming back down and hitting a tough jump shot over two defenders. Then, Miami quickly inbounded the ball across the court to sophomore guard Isaiah Wong, who led the fast break for a layup only for Duke to keep its lead thanks to Moore’s soaring block. Just when one might think he had done enough, Moore drove to the basket on the other end to extend Duke's lead to three. From that point on, Miami never led again.
Moore is one of Duke's captains, and he demonstrated his leadership Friday by willing Duke to a pivotal win, as his ability to run the floor on both ends was exemplified within the span of just 30 seconds. The junior wing—who is a finalist for the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award—had 17 points on the night to be Duke's third-highest scorer. Moore also recorded three blocks against the Hurricanes, tying Williams for the most on Duke. However, his performance in the most crucial part of the game is why he was named Player of the Game.
One word: Size
From the outset of Friday night’s game, there was a clear difference between Duke and Miami. Duke’s shortest starter, Trevor Keels, is 6-foot-5, and Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams are both at least 6-foot-10 in the frontcourt. On the other hand, the Hurricanes started four players 6-foot-5 or under and their tallest player, Sam Waardenburg, is 6-foot-10. While Miami often ran a five-out offense dependent on the three, Duke was able to put its size advantage to good use throughout the game. After Miami got off to a hot start, Banchero brought the Blue Devils back into the game by taking advantage of matchups, putting the ball on the floor and muscling past defenders to the rim.
For the game, Duke scored 44 points in the paint compared to 34 for Miami. Much of this came in the first half, in which the Blue Devils led 24-14 in points in the paint. Duke crushed the Hurricanes on the glass, outrebounding Miami 40 to 31, and collected eight blocks to Miami's two. Williams put his size to good use as well, tallying nine points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. While Duke certainly does not shy away from shooting the three—AJ Griffin made four triples and led the team in scoring Friday—it should continue to lean into its size advantage heading into Saturday's championship game and the NCAA tournament.
One stat: 13 second-chance points
During its regular-season loss to Miami in January, reducing turnovers was a key lesson for Duke. Even in their loss yesterday, the Blue Devils had 10 turnovers to Miami’s six, and the Hurricanes led 11-6 in points off turnovers. As such, it was key for Duke to gain an edge in another area, and that was second-chance points. Duke used its tremendous size advantage to outrebound Miami for extra possessions, and while the Hurricanes had just one less offensive rebound than the Blue Devils did, Duke was able to convert those opportunities at a higher rate, tallying 13 second-chance points to Miami's eight.
In the first half, Miami kept up with Duke in this category by scoring five second-chance points to Duke's six before the Blue Devils led 7-3 in the second half. Often, these additional possessions can decide the game, and the Blue Devils should continue this extra effort as they look to win the program's 22nd conference tournament championship Saturday.
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