Three points: Perimeter defense, ball movement critical for No. 22 Duke men's basketball against Hofstra

Junior guard Jaylen Blakes shoots a 3-pointer against Charlotte.
Junior guard Jaylen Blakes shoots a 3-pointer against Charlotte.

The Blue Devils got back on track Saturday against Charlotte, and they will look to continue their success at home Tuesday against Hofstra. In anticipation of the matchup, the Blue Zone brings three keys to a Blue Devil victory:

Locking down the perimeter

Come Tuesday, Duke must recognize and adjust to the outside scoring threats that Hofstra can put on the hardwood. The Pride start three guards who average in double digits — and two who shoot at least 40% from behind the arc. Included in this trio is standout graduate student Tyler Thomas. Thomas is currently shooting 41.5% from deep on an impressive 94 attempts. Shooting the three ball so efficiently on high volume has powered the 6-foot-3 guard to average 23.6 points per game and serve as Hofstra’s scoring leader. 

What might be most concerning about the matchup for the Blue Devils is that they might need to contain the Pride’s wealth of guard talent without one of their best on-ball defenders. Sophomore guard Tyrese Proctor’s status on Tuesday as he battles an ankle sprain will be a game-changer for Duke’s ability to defend the perimeter. Opponents have seen a 7.1% increase in effective field goal percentage when the Sydney native is not on the floor, and there was a particularly pronounced climb in the team’s loss to Georgia Tech where Proctor suffered the injury. The sophomore has continually taken the toughest assignments since he arrived in Durham, unwavering in his defensive intensity and versatility. His potential absence would call for a big step up from guards like freshman Caleb Foster and junior Jaylen Blakes to support the effort of containing elite shooters like Thomas.

Swinging the rock

The Blue Devils averaged 18.6 assists per game in their first five contests of the season. In the four games since then — including losses to Arkansas and Georgia Tech — this figure has dropped off to 12.5. The significant decline is in line with growing concerns over Duke’s offensive coherence and ability to create openings. The fall-off is due to a wide array of factors, and the impact of weaker ball movement is remarkably clear and has proven a considerable handicap in the team’s recent performances.

The concerns over ball movement on Tuesday are similarly bolstered by the potential absence of Proctor, the team’s primary distributor. He has been a clear centerpiece for Duke’s offense as his passing has contributed to over a third of the scoring for sophomore Kyle Filipowski, junior guard Jeremy Roach and freshman guard Jared McCain. Saturday’s matchup against Charlotte saw Roach, McCain and Foster combine for nine assists as Proctor sat out due to his injury. This trio of guards must maintain their ability to move the ball and find opportunities in the passing lanes, especially if Proctor is out again.

One step at a time

Perhaps the biggest key for the Blue Devils will be their mental approach to this game. Just beyond Tuesday’s matchup is a critical face-off against No. 6 Baylor under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. The Pride have proven scorers and are going to fight to bounce back after a tough 71-68 loss against St. Louis University. They have all the tools to give Duke trouble and take the edge against a squad still wrestling with early-season growing pains. Proper preparation and effort on both sides of the ball out of the gate will dictate the Blue Devils’ performance. Their mental approach could mean the difference between traveling to New York with confidence and stepping into the Garden reeling from continued struggles.


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