Duke’s Amile Jefferson said he knew Monday night’s matchup against Tennessee State would be difficult.
That’s what the film showed. Just last week, the Tigers took N.C. State to overtime before losing.
But watching it on film, and playing against it, are two different things, Jefferson, a graduate student, said.
“Whether we thought we were (ready), or we didn’t, they knocked us back,” Jefferson said.
The Tigers (8-3) gave the Blue Devils (11-1) fits for much of the game, forcing tough shots and creating turnovers.
After the first half, the Blue Devils were shooting 28 percent from the floor, and 64 percent from the free throw line.
Duke eventually won though, 65-55, thanks in part to 25-5 run midway through the second half.
“They’ve got five guys out there that can go and push it,” Tennessee State coach Dana Ford said. “6-8, 6-6, you got no chance.”
Jayson Tatum was the architect behind that run. He was responsible for three passes that led to three straight three pointers.
On the first three, the 6-8, 205-pound freshman rebounded the basketball, dribbled it up court and found Allen open in transition for a three.
Then on back-to-back possessions he found sophomore Luke Kennard open for two threes.
The three three’s in total, gave Duke a nine point lead with 11:31 left in the second half. Freshman guard Frank Jackson would hit one more layup, before the Tigers answered.
Prior to that, the Blue Devils hadn’t led by more than four points all game.
During that stretch, the Tigers went cold from the floor. They missed seven straight field goals, while Duke continued to heat up.
“We’re a team that can get hot and make shots like we did,” Allen said. “With Luke and Jayson shooting the ball the way they did in the second half, we can really get going like that. But you have to string together stops in order to make that run.”
The run seemed to settle Duke down for the rest of the game. Tatum hit some tough shots down the stretch and put the game away.
Kennard finished the game’s leading scorer with 24 points. Tatum finished with 14 points on 4 of 11 shooting, and nine rebounds. Jefferson had five points and 18 rebounds, but missed seven out of eight free throws.
“I just don’t think we were ready to play,” Kennard said. “Our energy wasn’t there, our enthusiasm wasn’t there, and we just didn’t really have one guy bringing us all the energy, and we really needed that tonight.”
The big run, however, gave Duke enough room for when the Tigers did make one final run, it was too little too late.
“They are a very good basketball team,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I told our guys, this is the kind of opponent you face in the NCAA tournament. Old, really well-coached team. Play defense and they rebound.”