The start of ACC play signals the beginning of the main event in Duke’s season, and the Blue Devils were particularly pleased with their 81-64 win at Boston College.
Conference games are treated differently at Duke. It’s not that the Blue Devils prepare any harder—rest assured, the same effort was put into preparing for Bryant as it will be for North Carolina—but Mike Krzyzewski sees conference play as the route into postseason play (it is one of the main differentiators between college football and basketball, in his mind). So when No. 15 Duke (12-2, 1-0 ACC) was able to play well offensively and defensively on the road, Krzyzewski was quick to praise his group.
“I’m pleased with the effort and obviously pleased with the win,” he said.
Without Amile Jefferson, Duke’s defense has the potential to be quite vulnerable, but that was not the case against the Eagles (7-7, 0-1 ACC). After not playing “any defense” in the previous win against Long Beach State, to use Krzyzewski’s words, the Blue Devils held the Eagles to 42.9 percent shooting and recorded 10 steals. One reason for that was improved communication from center Marshall Plumlee. As the player closest the the basket, Plumlee can see the rest of the defense in front of him, and that puts him in position to call out what the guards might not see. This is what Jefferson did particularly well, so improvements by Plumlee in this regard are a welcome development.
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The Blue Devils’ defensive plan required all five players to communicate well, as they switched on Boston College’s high ball screens. Overall, that plan worked for Duke.
“We knew the game plan, and we followed it,” Brandon Ingram said. “We knew personnel, and we went out there and got after it.”
Duke was clearly the better team on the floor, and after some initial nerves calmed down, the Blue Devils had a 37-24 halftime lead. But the Blue Devils were reminded that there are no gimmes on the road in conference play, as the Eagles did manage to apply some game pressure midway through the second half.
Duke appeared to have the game wrapped up with a 21-point lead, 57-36, with10:46 left. But a 10-0 Boston College run over the next 2:07 forced a timeout from Krzyzewski. The message: start talking on defense again and be more active on that end of the floor.
Part of the letup was due to tiredness on the part of the Blue Devils—Ingram, Plumlee, Grayson Allen and Matt Jones all played at least 34 minutes, and Luke Kennard was in for 27 off the bench. It will take time to get used to that type of workload and to find the right balance of rest and hard work at practice. Lapses due to tiredness, though, are all but inevitable with a six-man rotation.
The Eagles never cut the deficit to less than 11 points thanks to timely plays from a bevy of Blue Devils.
There was an Allen steal along the right sideline that ended in a 3-point play after he kept his balance and finished through contact. Kennard moved well without the ball, caught a pass and got his defender to leave his feet before sinking an open jump shot. Ingram drove to the basket and hit a 3 on back-to-back possessions. And Kennard had a nice baseline drive to give Duke a 71-57 lead with 3:36 to play.
“We could obviously do a lot better, fell asleep sometimes in the second half, but, for the most part, I thought it was a good effort by us,” Allen said. “We played hard. We played a lot harder than we did last game.”
Ingram led all scorers with 24 points, his sixth 20-point game of the year. Allen and Kennard added 17 apiece, and Matt Jones contributed 16 as well. As a team, Duke shot 55.1 percent from the floor, and that’s the type of offensive performance the Blue Devils hope can come consistently in ACC play. Duke used its athletic advantage to drive to the basket often against the Eagles, and the result was 30 trips to the free-throw line (compared to 14 for Boston College).
“The drive and kick was always there,” Ingram said. “We didn’t knock down shots at first, so we got aggressive and drove to the rim and followed that with defensive pressure.”
And that will be a winning recipe for ACC play.