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 Paolo Banchero's performance and the rest of the Blue Devils' loss to North Carolina in their regular-season finale:
One player: Paolo Banchero
It is tough to put a positive spin on Saturday's game after the Blue Devils lost to North Carolina in head coach Mike Krzyzewski's final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but the brightest spot for Duke on an otherwise disappointing evening was the play of star freshman Paolo Banchero. Remaining locked in for the full 40 minutes, Banchero showed that he can take over and demand the ball when the team needs offense. Putting up just 23 points is not something to regularly expect when a player of Banchero’s caliber takes 26 shots; this game was tough for everyone. However, the fact that the freshman both seemed to acknowledge that the team needed someone to take over and stepped up to the plate is a very good sign for Duke.
On top of his 23 points, Banchero tallied five assists and five rebounds. The Seattle native did a bit of everything on the offensive end, both distributing to his teammates and getting up shots of his own. There are likely very few people who will take this loss harder than the players themselves, and while positivity may be hard to come by the day after, there should be one key takeaway: Banchero showed that he knows his role on this team, and is willing to do what it takes to will the Blue Devils back into games. While it may not have worked this time, his takeover mode was on full display.
One word: Help
Help is something that should never be considered a negative in a team game. Having your teammates' backs is something that is often preached day after day, but Duke's defensive showing in Saturday's loss showed plainly why help can be a double-edged sword as defensive rotation proved to be Duke’s downfall against North Carolina. Switching off their own men to help out teammates left Tar Heels wide-open looks and helped dig a deep hole that Duke could not find its way out of as the clock ran out.
Unsuccessful double teams left North Carolina forward Brady Manek open enough to find space to make 5-of-10 3-point shots, just two less than Duke’s seven triples. Switching over for help often left star big Armando Bacot open in the paint, a major reason why he was able to connect on 10-of-11 shots in the game. His thunderous dunk with a minute left to put North Carolina up 10 points came after Banchero was caught in the paint and switched over to provide help, leaving Bacot open to put the final dagger in the hearts of Duke fans everywhere. Defensive rotations are not a bad thing, but they can often expose defenses for easy buckets that experienced players like Bacot and Manek can take advantage of.
One stat: Eight free throw attempts
There’s no way around it: eight free throw attempts is bad, especially considering the fact that Duke averages 17.0 attempts per game this season. The top team in the nation in terms of free throw shots, New Orleans, attempts 24.5 per game. While a number of the visiting team's shots at the stripe came from Duke playing the foul game in the final minute, North Carolina still got up 22 attempts.
Duke has proved that it can go up against the top teams in the nation and walk away with the win, yet against North Carolina, the team seemed to play rather timidly. Pushing the ball into the paint, getting physical against bigger players and getting to the line are all fundamentals of the game, and it is time for the Blue Devils to put their heads down more, make their way toward the basket and either get away with a bucket or make it to the line. This season's Blue Devils still have an opportunity to make sure that this one game is not how they are remembered, and that journey starts at the ACC tournament.
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