There’s only so much Amile Jefferson can do from the bench with a boot helping to mitigate the bruised bone in his foot.
With Duke trailing Louisville late, with no signs of relinquishing its momentum at the KFC Yum! Center, Jefferson provided some encouragement to a young front court preparing to take the floor.
Freshmen Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden manned the middle as Duke searched for answers for a hot Cardinals team.
“Just stay strong, we were built for this moment,” Bolden said of Jefferson’s message to the young pair. “We were down and needed a presence inside. You can’t really have two nonexistent guys out there. So he really just wanted us to come in and make our presence felt.”
But since Jefferson has been sidelined, there hasn’t been much production from No. 7 Duke’s bigs. They haven’t been particularly adept at stopping it on the other side, either.
After the Blue Devils’ 78-69 setback to No. 15 Louisville, Duke has allowed 92 points in the paint in its last two games, both losses.
It was the team’s second straight ACC road loss, and the front court accounted for seven points against the Cardinals – all coming from freshman starter Harry Giles. Bolden, DeLaurier and Chase Jeter didn’t attempt any shots from the floor in a combined 29 minutes. DeLaurier, however, played energetic in his first game since Dec. 10.
Three of them – DeLauier, Giles and Jeter – each had a block in the first half, but it wasn’t enough against a Louisville team that shot 60 percent from the 3-point line in the second half.
Duke (14-4, 2-3 ACC) committed a season-high 18 turnovers on Saturday and had only two assists at the break; the team finished with eight. The Blue Devils grabbed seven offensive rebounds.
“They have to get better,” acting head coach Jeff Capel said. “The very first thing is rebounding. We have to do a better job as a group, and certainly they’re a big part of that. Protecting our basket is another thing.”
Giles led the group with six rebounds against the Cardinals (15-3, 3-2), second to Grayson Allen’s nine. The Duke veteran led the team with 23 points and offered a scoring streak down the stretch in order to keep the Blue Devils afloat.
But the youth showed.
With 8:48 left, a Bolden foul gifted Louisville a three-point play and a 57-49 lead. He was pulled in favor of Jayson Tatum, who had already had four fouls of his own.
Bolden, DeLaurier, Giles and Jeter have each overcome injuries this season. Duke hasn’t had very many full practices because of injuries.
Allen said with the inexperienced group having limited nonconference action, it’s been a difficult adjustment as Duke rolls on in ACC play.
“It’s tough for them to get thrown right into it,” he said, “It’s just learning the game. Learning the ACC game. Learning to play smart. Learning to play without the basketball and talking. It’s lots of stuff that people don’t write down in their strengths and weaknesses of their recruiting profiles when they’re coming in. It’s just stuff that’s not part of the game and stuff that’s not really seen on the stat sheet.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan