Over the past two games, Duke has turned in its most complete performances of the season. Still, though, the Blue Devils see room for improvement and a way to build even further on the wins against Utah State and Indiana.
“The last game against Utah State, they didn’t play well, but we started to see everybody playing the whole game together,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Duke’s 94-74 win against Indiana. “This was a carryover. Maybe that’s what we can do. It’s learned.”
The No. 7 Blue Devils (7-1) have been particularly effective at the beginning of the second half of games. Other than the loss to Kentucky, Duke has outscored its opponent over the final 20 minutes. Against Utah State and Indiana, the Blue Devils put together impressive runs right out of the locker room.
The 16-0 run against Utah State was longer, but the 9-0 run against Indiana was arguably the better of the two. The Blue Devils were smarting about how they ended the first half – after taking a 13-point lead with 1:20 to go, Indiana sank two 3-point shots in 28 seconds to cut the lead to 49-42. It took a circus shot by Grayson Allen, slipping and flinging the ball with two hands from his waist over his shoulder, somehow off the backboard and in, to stop the quick Indiana run and give Duke a nine-point lead at halftime.
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Before he could get into the locker room, Krzyzewski was bumped by Indiana’s Max Bielfeldt as the two were leaving the court. When Bielfeldt didn’t say anything, a confused and angry Krzyzewski stopped Indiana coach Tom Crean and the officials for some sort of explanation (everyone was willing to assume it was an accident afterwards). But still, that, combined with how Duke had ended the half, gave Krzyzewski plenty of fire for his halftime talk.
“For us, we were heated because they hit two 3s in freaking 10 seconds,” Amile Jefferson said, his pointed language a marked departure from his generally PR-friendly answers. “You can’t let teams do that. That’s giving them too much energy, too much emotion to play with in our gym.
“All of our guys came out in the second half with an edge, with a verve, and I think that helped us get going really quickly.”
Allen had said after the Utah State win that the Blue Devils’ goal was to come out and start both halves like they had been shot out of a cannon. They were definitely able to mimic that explosiveness in the second half against Indiana. During the initial 9-0 run, the Blue Devils collected three offensive rebounds and forced two turnovers, out-hustling the Hoosiers on both ends of the floor.
And when the one thing Indiana does reliably well – score – went missing, a nine-point game quickly turned into a blowout. The Hoosiers missed their first six shots from the field and didn’t hit a field goal until there was 11:30 left in the game. By that point, they were down by 21 points.
The hope is that, as the season goes along, the Blue Devils can come out quickly in the first half as well. Brandon Ingram carried Duke for the first four minutes of the game, scoring eight quick points, but a 12-0 Indiana run forced the Blue Devils into an early comeback mode.
“We have to eliminate slow starts,” Jefferson said. “But I thought, for an overall effort, that (Indiana) was the best 40 minutes we did, playing strong.”
Buffalo, Duke’s opponent Saturday afternoon, will bring a talent level closer to Utah State’s than Indiana’s. But it still presents Duke with an opportunity to start strong, and it will give Ingram and Luke Kennard a chance to build on recent strong performances. Duke has already shown significant improvement over the first two months of the season, but there is still room to grow.