Matt Jones couldn’t even wait to hear the whole question before he gave his answer. His urgency said more about his excitement for a return to a high-profile matchup than any words could.
“For the young guys, they got a little taste of it, but to be in Cameron for a game like this is going to be really crazy,” Jones said of Duke’s Wednesday date with Indiana. We just have to build off of what we did (Sunday), and hopefully we’ll come to play.”
Jones paused and reconsidered.
“I know we’ll come to play on Wednesday.”
No. 7 Duke (6-1) has the benefit of trying to build off of its most complete performance of the year, an 85-52 win over Utah State, while Indiana (5-2) is fighting jet lag and coming off a disastrous trip to the Maui Invitational.
The Hoosiers were ranked No. 15 in the preseason and expected to compete for the Big Ten title before losses to unranked Wake Forest and UNLV raised serious red flags. Indiana struggled mightily on the defensive end of the floor with ball screens and drivers – two things Duke uses well. The Blue Devils also have the nation’s most efficient offense in this young college basketball season, according to statistician Ken Pomeroy.
The Blue Devils got their first taste of marquee matchups the week before Thanksgiving, losing to Kentucky in Chicago and then beating VCU and Georgetown in New York City’s Madison Square Garden to end the week.
That week was significant for sophomore Grayson Allen, who shook off a poor game against the Wildcats (six points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field) and carried Duke in New York, averaging 31 points per game while shooting 66.7 percent from the floor.
“He has probably been one of the better players in the country, not just on our team,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Allen. “He’s a unique player. He can defend, rebound, shoot and drive.
“We’re trying to get him to talk. That’d be a good thing. On defense he doesn’t talk a bunch. But overall, Grayson has been outstanding.”
Krzyzewski did say he was worried about Allen shouldering too much of Duke’s load and getting worn out, and Allen did get help offensively in Sunday’s win against Utah State. Freshman Luke Kennard found his shot consistently for the first time this season, scoring 22 points (along with Allen’s 22 points). And Allen was more than happy to share the ball.
During a timeout with 26 seconds left in the first half, Krzyzewski drew up a play designed to spread the floor, give Allen the ball and let him read the defense and make a decision. As it turned out, Allen passed up a good look — one Krzyzewski wished he would have taken – to give the ball to Kennard in the corner. Kennard ended up driving the baseline and drawing contact, and he made one of his free throws to give Duke a 38-27 halftime lead.
That, Krzyzewski said, is an example of the type of unselfishness on this team.
“I especially like Grayson’s reaction to Luke,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s what I love about my upperclassman, they could not be happier when a kid does well. I thought it picked Grayson up to see Luke starting to hit.”
As a team, the Blue Devils put together their most complete effort of the season Sunday. It left Krzyzewski with virtually no complaints.
“We played well today, from start to finish, on both ends of the court,” he said. “We were efficient. Our defense was good. Offensive execution, especially at the start of the second half, was terrific.”
The Blue Devils avoided a slow start in both halves, emphatically putting together a 16-0 run to start the second, making their first five shots from the field and attempting four free throws in that span. Indiana will undoubtedly present more of a challenge than Utah State, but still, the confidence earned in Sunday will pay dividends.
“We just have to keep getting better in everything,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s a long, long season process-wise.”