Duke showed glimpses of the team it has longed to be this season with an 84-74 victory over No. 21 Florida Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
No one played a full 20-minute half. Star freshman Jayson Tatum, in his second game of the season, boosted the No. 5 Blue Devils’ transition game. Graudate student Amile Jefferson and sophomore Luke Kennard carried them to their seventh straight victory. Jefferson put up his fifth double-double of the season with 24 points and 15 rebounds. His first-half production was 1.05 points a minute. Kennard, who was greeted with cheers upon entering the locker room, added 29 on an 11-of-16 night, going 5-of-7 from behind the arc.
Jefferson and Tatum were both out of practice the previous day to attend funerals of their loved ones in their hometowns of Philadelphia and St. Louis.
As good as Duke (9-1) looked against Florida (7-2), it was still only a glimpse.
There’s still no Harry Giles. The freshman, who is recovering from a knee scope, might be ready after next week’s exams after more practice against contact. Freshman center Marques Bolden came off the bench for two minutes Tuesday, picking up two quick fouls and being pulled in favor of Chase Jeter. It was Bolden’s second game of his college career, too, but he was cleared to play Friday and hasn’t done much in the days since.
Junior Grayson Allen is not 100 percent, but, without practicing for a couple of weeks, he made several immaculate passes in lieu of being explosive. He’s been battling turf toe since the last time Duke played at MSG, a last-second 75-77 loss to Kansas on Nov. 15. Allen led the game with eight assists; he had six points.
“We’re starting to put it together a little bit,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said after calling his team really efficient. The Blue Devils only missed one free throw (13-of-14) and Jefferson, Kennard and Tatum combined for 75 points, shooting nearly 70 percent as a trio (29-of-42).
“It’s almost like we’re on October mode now, when everyone else is in December mode,” Krzyzewski said.
Duke shared the ball well, with 16 assists to Florida’s 10, in a game that started off back and forth. The Blue Devils rallied with 4:32 left in the first half when Kennard made three good passes on a possession that ended with a Jefferson dunk, giving them a 29-28 lead.
Tatum showed maturity on that play, which started with one of his eight defensive rebounds; all his boards came on that end. He pushed the ball up, stopping at the top of the key just to see what was available. On Saturday, his college debut, the wing probably would have had his eyes on the basket.
We actually said at halftime his steal and pressure kind of turned the game around. And it turned him around I think, too.
“My teammates did a good job of fitting me in, and it really starts on defense,” Tatum said. “Make plays on defense, transition offense.”
Tatum passed up a few looks to pass and finished with 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He knocked down a jumper, giving give Duke a 12-point lead at 5:36 in the second half in front of Kyrie Irving, a guard who played for the Blue Devils during the 2010-11 season and is now with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“That second half, he came back to who he was, the guy we’ve been seeing for the four months of being together,” said Jefferson on Tatum’s 16 points after the break.
Kennard, who had 35 points against Maine on Dec. 3, scored 29 points against the Gators and was the engine for Duke throughout the night. When he wasn’t making 3-pointers or flexing his mid-range game or finishing spin moves with his off hand, he was setting up his teammates. He only finished with three assists, but the sophomore guard really drove Duke’s ball movement.
When Duke had Bolden and Tatum healthy in early October, Kennard wasn’t in Krzyzewski’s starting lineup. It was Allen, Tatum, Jefferson, Bolden and senior Matt Jones with Kennard and freshman Frank Jackson coming off the bench.
The tables have turned, as Kennard leads Duke with 19.4 points a game.
“I’d probably say I wouldn’t believe you,” Kennard said in response to whether or not he’d believe he’d be Duke’s leading scorer before the season started. “Grayson had eight assists tonight, and I think a lot of them were to me. It’s a great thing when we can share the ball like that. There’s absolutely no jealousy on the team. That’s what makes us really special.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan