Duke

Duke Blue Devils can’t solve Kentucky Wildcats

Laura Keeley breaks down Duke's loss to Kentucky

Blue Devils get first loss of season from a talented Kentucky team in Chicago.
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Blue Devils get first loss of season from a talented Kentucky team in Chicago.

The Blue Devils knew their first major test of the year would come against Kentucky.

The results? Duke has a long way to go. This, though isn’t a huge surprise to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who knew his young group was very much a work in progress.

The Wildcats were more athletic and much more effective offensively in their 74-63 win over Duke on Tuesday night. And add stronger to that list, which was the observation that Krzyzewski used to lead his postgame press conference.

“Their perimeter, especially (Tyler) Ulis and (Jamal) Murray, they’re strong, good guards,” Krzyzewski said.

This was in direct contrast to Duke’s perimeter, which struggled mightily all game. Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard – the three players Krzyzewski thought would lead Duke’s offense this year – combined for 12 points on 3-of-22 shooting.

“We weren’t who we should be tonight from the start,” Krzyzewski said. “I didn’t feel like our team was here tonight like it needed to be.”

Duke’s lack of a true, consistent point guard was a major flaw as the Blue Devils never could find an offensive flow (though Krzyzewski did praise reserve point guard Derryck Thornton for his fight, a likely sign of future playing time to come). What hurt most, though, was the absence of a consistent scorer.

Allen scored 26 and 28 points against the likes of Siena and Bryant to begin the season, driving at will toward the basket. Against Kentucky, that driving space was nonexistent, and he was reduced to attempting to drive, but just along the edge of the paint as he couldn’t get any closer. Kentucky wanted to lure Allen into driving into their defense, Wildcats coach John Calipari said. Mission accomplished.

“They did a great job of helping off and really pressuring our drives and meeting us at the rim,” Allen said.

Allen, who missed his first nine shots and never made an adjustment to stop driving and start taking jump shots or use a floater, had zero first-half points. Thornton finally found him for an open 3 in the left corner with 12 minutes, 8 seconds left in the game, cutting Kentucky’s lead to 53-45.

Allen finished 2-for-11 with six points.

“You can’t expose the ball on a drive against shot blockers the way he did,” Krzyzewski said of Allen. “We talked about it, but if your habit is to do that, he went to his habit, even though his habit wasn’t going to be successful.”

An 8-0 Kentucky run in less than two minutes early in the second half gave Wildcats a double-digit lead for the first time; the score was 47-36 by the first media timeout with 15:18 left. Duke never seriously threatened to take the lead in the final 20 minutes.

Krzyzewski had said before the year that Duke’s best players were its upperclassmen because they are the ones ready to play.

There was an exclamation point on that idea Tuesday night.

Through the first 20 minutes, Duke had zero points from Allen, Ingram and Kennard. But Duke entered the break down just 37-31, thanks mainly to Marshall Plumlee.

Plumlee played like the fifth-year senior he is, scoring 11 points and pulling down eight rebounds in the first half. He scored Duke’s first nine points on three putbacks off of offensive rebounds and an and-one free throw.

Plumlee finished with a double-double, 12 points and 10 rebounds, along with six blocks in 36 minutes. Matt Jones had 16 points on a 5-of-11 effort from the field, and Amile Jefferson posted 16 as well, thanks in large part to a few late baskets after the outcome was decided.

A Duke freshman (or sophomore, for that matter) didn’t score until there was 2:38 left in the half. Thornton hit a 3 and then a nice step-back jump shot to keep Kentucky from pulling away after extending the lead to seven points, the largest of the game up until that point. After Thornton’s second basket, it was a 33-29 Wildcats lead.

Shooting was a struggle for Duke in the first half. Outside of Plumlee and Jefferson’s attempts down low, the Blue Devils shot 5-for-24 (20.8 percent) from the field. For the game, the Blue Devils not named Plumlee or Jefferson finished 11-for-40 (27.5 percent) from the field.

Ingram struggled all night, recording as many fouls (four) as points on 1-of-6 shooting in 19 minutes. Kennard had two points, missing all five shots from the field, in 14 minutes off the bench.

The good news for the Blue Devils is that it’s only November, and this can be a much different team by March. Thornton could be ready to run the offense. Allen can learn to diversify his game when drives aren’t there. Plumlee could continue to be an effective center down low. And results like this could be a distant memory.

“We just have to figure out our team,” Krzyzewski said. “We do that every year. Most years it’s pretty good. Some years, you win a national championship. We are a ways from doing that with a group right now, but we can be a really good team.

“We have a lot of improvement ahead of us. We just have to accept that and go on and do it.”

Laura Keeley: 919-829-4556, @laurakeeley

No. 2 KENTUCKY 74,

No. 5 DUKE 63

KENTUCKY

Min

FG-A

FT-A

OR-T

A

PF

PT

Lee

22

5-10

0-0

5-10

1

5

10

Labissiere

13

3-5

1-2

2-4

1

5

7

Ulis

40

6-13

6-6

0-4

6

0

18

Briscoe

31

5-8

1-3

0-3

1

1

12

Murray

38

7-17

0-2

3-5

5

2

16

Matthews

7

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

Humphries

12

1-3

0-0

2-3

1

3

2

Poythress

30

3-10

3-5

4-7

0

4

9

Willis

7

0-1

0-0

0-0

0

1

0

Totals

200

30-67

11-18

17-39

15

21

74

Percentages: FG .448, FT .611. 3-Point Goals: 3-10, .300 (Murray 2-3, Briscoe 1-1, Poythress 0-1, Willis 0-1, Ulis 0-4). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 7 (Humphries 2, Lee 2, Labissiere, Poythress, Ulis). Turnovers: 9 (Murray 3, Labissiere 2, Briscoe, Lee, Humphries). Steals: 9 (Murray 4, Ulis 2, Briscoe 2, Matthews). Technical Fouls: None.

DUKE

Min

FG-A

FT-A

OR-T

A

PF

PT

Allen

28

2-11

1-3

0-3

1

4

6

Jones

35

5-11

3-4

0-0

2

2

16

Ingram

19

1-6

2-2

0-1

1

4

4

Jefferson

35

7-8

2-4

8-15

0

2

16

Plumlee

36

4-6

4-8

4-10

1

2

12

Jeter

4

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

3

0

Kennard

14

0-5

2-2

1-2

1

0

2

Thornton

29

3-7

0-0

0-3

3

3

7

Totals

200

22-54

14-23

15-39

9

20

63

Percentages: FG .407, FT .609. 3-Point Goals: 5-13, .385 (Jones 3-6, Thornton 1-2, Allen 1-2, Kennard 0-3). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 8 (Plumlee 6, Ingram, Jeter). Turnovers: 16 (Allen 4, Ingram 4, Thornton 4, Jefferson 2, Jeter). Steals: 3 (Jones 2, Allen). Technical Fouls: None.

Kentucky

37

37

74

Duke

31

32

63

A—NA. Officials—Doug Sirmons, Roger Ayers, Tony Greene.

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