It isn’t always going to be like this. This smooth. This fiery. This explosive.
When Duke hits its stride on a consistent basis, as the Blue Devils almost certainly will in January or February or March, this is what it’s going to look like: how it looked Wednesday night in a thorough domination of Indiana in the Bobby Knight Legacy Division of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Just about everything went right for the Blue Devils in the 94-74 win. Brandon Ingram scoring almost at will. Grayson Allen attacking. Matt Jones gunning. Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee rebounding. Mike Krzyzewski exhorting the crowd to “Get angry!” A defense that denied shots and forced turnovers. Duke had all of that against Indiana in what might have been Duke’s most complete, most polished performance of the season.
The Hoosiers had something to do with that, this being far from a vintage Indiana team defensively, or aside from Yogi Ferrell, offensively. Still, it was a Power 5 opponent and Duke bounced back from some dangerous early struggles to blow the doors off the Hoosiers.
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The danger is to expect this of the Blue Devils all the time, at least for now. They’re too young, too raw. The road ahead will still be rough, littered with potholes that may or may not trip up these very young players on any given night. Wednesday offered a glimpse of the finished product. There’s a lot of work left to get there, and that isn’t a process that can be rushed.
Still, Wednesday didn’t start out easy for Duke. Indiana came out strong, putting early pressure on Duke, popping a quick 7-0 run that put the Blue Devils down four or five for much of the first portion of the half. Even at home, this is a tough game situation. Things can easily steamroll, one bad possession after the next.
But Ingram kicked off a 10-0 Duke run and the Blue Devils never looked back. The lead was nine at the half after a crazy over-the-shoulder prayer from Grayson Allen at the buzzer. By the first television timeout of the second half, it was 16. By the time Indiana finally scored, it was 18.
The real second-half drama was figuring out what happened at halftime, when an Indiana player, apparently Max Bielfeldt, collided with Krzyzewski exiting the court, provoking a long conversation between Krzyzewski and Indiana coach Tom Crean, followed by an equally long conversation between Krzyzewski and the officials.
Tensions seemed to abate at halftime, and never approached boiling even when an Indiana player was assessed a technical foul for a shove of Allen. Of course, the fact that Indiana went almost nine minutes without a field goal to open the half took some of the heat out of the proceedings. Even khaki-clad Jim Harbaugh, sitting behind the bench across the aisle from Grant Hill, threw up his arms in exasperation.
Duke could really do no wrong at that point. Just about anything the Blue Devils threw at the rim went in, and Jefferson swallowed up anything that didn’t. Ingram had the best game of his young career, showing off the arsenal of scoring moves that made him such a coveted prospect. He scored from 3-point range, from inside and even with a dainty, Gervin-esque finger roll.
It won’t always be like this, not right away. Not for Duke, not for Ingram. This is part of a process, one that does not necessarily have a smooth progression forward. There will be nights where Ingram gets lost and Allen can’t get to the rim and Jefferson is outmuscled on the boards. But there will be fewer and fewer of them as time passes, and more and more nights like Wednesday, when Duke showed where it’s headed, eventually.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock