Madison Square Garden - “The basketball gods play pick-up there”- Coach K
Back from a break to take final exams, Duke fought through a rough start offensively to dominate Princeton 101-50 on Tuesday night.
That’s 146 consecutive non-conference wins for the Blue Devils on their famed court at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Mike Krzyzewski’s favorite place to coach.
His second favorite venue will house Duke’s next game and the 71-year-old Hall of Fame coach could hardly wait to make the trip.
No. 12 Texas Tech clashes with the No. 2-ranked Blue Devils on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
“It’s every kid’s dream to play in the Garden,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s every coach’s dream to coach in the Garden. It’s still a thrill for me to go there. The ball bounces, it sounds different. The public address system sounds different. There’s just something. I know it’s used for a lot of things, but probably at 2 or 3 in the morning the basketball gods play pick up there -- when there’s no room in Cameron.”
The Blue Devils (10-1) take a five-game winning streak into the matchup with the Red Raiders (10-0) at that famed midtown Manhattan arena.
This will be the fifth team Duke has faced this season that’s ranked among the nation’s top 15 teams at tipoff.
Texas Tech will be the best team Duke has faced since losing to now No. 8 Gonzaga, 89-87, in the Maui Invitational title game on Nov. 21.
They way the Blue Devils handled their business against Princeton shows they continue to take a solid approach to games even though they start four freshmen.
Duke struggled to put the ball in the basket early against Princeton. The Blue Devils missed their first eight shots and were 6 of 25 from the field 14 minutes into the game. The Tigers (5-5) led by as many as eight points before Duke finally took its first lead at 19-18.
Even though his team is accustomed to making short work of teams of late, Krzyzewski didn’t fret. He was happy with how the team played offense, even when the shots weren’t falling.
He was even happier that his team continued to show maximum effort on defense even when it wasn’t getting good results on offense.
“They played good defense and we couldn’t hit anything,” Krzyzewski said. “What can happen is you stop playing defense. Our guys kept playing defense. We played great defense tonight.”
Princeton shot a frigid 29.5 percent, hitting only 9 of 33 3-pointers. The Tigers turned the ball over 19 times.
Duke contributed greatly to those lowly total by collecting 14 blocked shots and 12 steals.
“Boy, that’s a really good team,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “They’re even better in person. It’s an honor to play against them. They got so many deflections, just stuff we hadn’t seen before. It’s a great lesson, that when you’re playing against the best, you have to be absolutely sharper than you’ve ever been.”
Getting all those stops on defense finally allowed Duke to catch Princeton and take the lead for good. Once in front, the Blue Devils turned the game into a blowout behind R.J. Barrett’s 27 points and a 17-point, 10-rebound night from fellow freshman Zion Williamson.
Duke’s ability to play strong defense even when it’s offense isn’t clicking will be especially important against Texas Tech.
The Red Raiders are the nation’s top team in defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistics. Texas Tech allows just 87.5 points per 100 possessions.
Contrast that with Duke’s offense, which is the nation’s second-most efficient. The Blue Devils score 120.6 points per 100 possessions. Only Gonzaga, at 122, is better.
Duke’s defensive efficiency, it should be noted, is No. 4 in the country at 89.2. The Blue Devils are showing they’ll always have their defense to rely upon. That was on display again against Princeton.
“We came out and we were really not hitting shots early,” Duke freshman guard Tre Jones said. “But we kept that energy on the defensive end. We knew we were going to get it going offensively.”
The Blue Devils are the only team in the country in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Top-ranked Kansas, seventh in offense and defense, is the only other team in the top 10 in both categories.
For all its defensive prowess, Texas Tech is No. 42 in the country in offensive efficiency at 110.5.
Still, the Red Raiders will give Duke one more serious test before ACC play begins. Thursday night’s game is Duke’s last of 2018 before it plays Clemson in the ACC opener on Jan. 5 at Cameron.
The way the Princeton game played out has Krzyzewski feeling his team is ready for whatever comes its way.
“They were upbeat, and they have great attitudes,” Krzyzewski said. “They like to play and they like each other. Overall, they did a good job, and we will see how tired they are as we go to New York.”