As great as the Duke Blue Devils have played at times this season, they are kids and they are human.
Though Boston College beat a different version of the Blue Devils last season, this year’s team just maybe couldn’t help but look beyond its Tuesday night game with the lowly Eagles.
A second showdown with Virginia, this time in Charlottesville, looms on Saturday. It starts a difficult six-game stretch for Duke where five of the teams are among the top six in the ACC standings and four are ranked in the top 25.
So Duke stumbled through a first half against Boston College, trailing by two at the break, before busting out after halftime and rolling to an 80-55 win.
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“Ever since we beat St. John’s,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “they only thing you see on ESPN is our game against Virginia. Nothing was said about this game. All the shows and everything. That’s the world that these guys live in. So I told them, ‘Look, you’ve got to play this game.’ I don’t know if that was part of it. But, again, we’re a young team so we can fall prey to that.”
It’s easy to peek ahead at what comes next because it will tell us so much about the Blue Devils.
Duke (20-2, 8-1), halfway through its ACC schedule, is tied with Virginia (20-1, 8-1) and North Carolina (18-4, 8-1) atop the league standings.
Louisville (17-6, 8-2) is a half game back. Syracuse (16-7, 7-3) and Virginia Tech (18-4, 7-3) are just behind the Cardinals.
Duke’s next two games are at Virginia followed by a trip to Louisville on Tuesday. The Blue Devils have home games with slumping N.C. State (16-7, 4-6) on Feb. 16 and rival UNC on Feb. 20 before road games at Syracuse on Feb. 23 and Virginia Tech on Feb. 26.
But back to the win over Boston College first, because a player who helped pull the Blue Devils out of their funk could play a very big role in how well Duke does from this point forward.
Cam Reddish scored 24 points to earn a unique distinction.
In every game this season, either RJ Barrett or Zion Williamson led Duke in scoring. Reddish shared the honors with Barrett when both scored 18 in Duke’s 78-72 win over Auburn on Nov. 19.
But against Boston College, Reddish led the Blue Devils in scoring all by himself.
On night when Barrett scored 19 though his minutes were limited by four fouls and Williamson scored 16 missed a dunk and fumble the ball for a turnover while leaping for another, Reddish emerged Duke’s biggest star.
“Cam played a great game, not just on offense but how he was moving on defense was just beautiful,” Krzyzewski said.
The Blue Devils needed the 6-8 freshman, who entered the night averaging 13 points but is capable of so much more.
Remember way back on Nov. 6 when Duke blasted Kentucky 118-84? Reddish had 22 points.
He’s not been a consistent scorer though.
His season highlight came on Jan. 12, a game at Florida State when Williamson missed the second half after being poked in the eye. Reddish scored 23 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds that gave the Blue Devils an 80-78 win.
But in the six games prior to that game, Reddish had failed to score more than 10 points in any game.
In the four games following his big day at Tallahassee, Reddish’s best scoring output was 15 in a 79-64 win at Pittsburgh on Jan. 22. Twice he failed to reach double-figures.
He showed signs of breaking out again last Saturday with 16 points, including four 3-pointers, in a 91-61 win over St. John’s.
His 24 points against Boston College included four more made 3-pointers. He’s made 11 3-pointers over the last three games.
“I feel great,” Reddish said. “I feel confident right now. I’ve been working extremely hard with the coaches. I’ve been praying a lot. Just being me, trying to get back to who I was. Trusting my teammates.”
Tuesday night marked the first time in ACC play that neither Williamson or Barrett, the ACC’s top two scorers, scored 20 points.
Reddish picked a good night to shine and help Duke avoid an upset.
If he continues as a reliable scorer, the Blue Devils will be tough to beat even when facing the ACC’s top teams over the next two weeks.
That will only whet everyone’s appetite for what lies ahead in March, even while Krzyzewski and his staff do their best to keep the young Blue Devils focused on the games at hand.