Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t mind if his scorers take a lot of shots.
In Duke’s 55-50 loss to Miami on Feb. 25, Blue Devils leading scorer Luke Kennard, a sophomore guard, and freshman forward Jayson Tatum combined for more than 30 shots. The Blue Devils were without junior guard Grayson Allen, who was nursing an ankle injury.
“I’m good that they shot 36 times. Most of the time, they’re going to hit more than 10,” Krzyzewski said in Monday’s ACC coaches teleconference. “Some of that is Miami, which they’re very good, and some of it is they’re humans. At times, they’re not going to hit those shots.”
All three players are starters, and when a healthy Allen is in the lineup, it can be quite the scare for opponents.
The balanced bevy of scorers do just that – balance.
Kennard leads No. 17 Duke (23-7, 11-6 ACC), which closes the regular season at No. 5 UNC (25-6, 13-4) Saturday, with 19.8 points a game while shooting 50.3 percentage. Since Tatum, who missed the first five weeks of the season with a sprained foot, entered the lineup on Dec. 3 against Maine, Kennard has led the trio in minutes 11 times. He’s tied with Allen two additional times.
Kennard, the only of the three to play in all 30 games leading up the the finale, averages 13.1 shots a game to Tatum’s 12.3 and Allen’s 10.9. Kennard (25.3 percent) and Tatum (25.9) use about the same percentage of shots; Allen has used 24.2.
“He’s being a lot more aggressive,” Allen said of the rookie Tatum, who grabs 7.4 rebounds a game while dominating on the defensive end. “I don’t think he’s necessarily getting more looks, but he’s very efficient, he’s attacking the glass really hard. He’s scoring without the ball just on his cuts, real quick moves around the basket. He’s a great scorer, so he can go one-on-one and hit tough shots, too.”
Tatum’s three-second drills in practice have helped him become more integrated into the offense. He must make his move – scoring or otherwise – in that small window of time, which has helped him adjust to the pace of college basketball.
“It’s so much faster and quicker, that’s something I was struggling with early,” Tatum said. “Coach was always on me about that, so he made that drill up for me to do. It’s helped me a lot to think quicker, not just score but being quicker. You don’t have that long to hold the ball.”
There have been three times the group has played without Allen. The first time, Kennard tied a season-best 68.8 percent from the floor (11-of-16) against Maine, Tatum’s debut game. The second time, Kennard shot 57.9 percent (11-of-19), while Tatum went 42.9 (6-of-14) in Duke’s 89-75 loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC opener on Dec. 31.
The last time was the Miami loss, where both Kennard and Tatum shot 30 percent or less and Kennard went 6-for-20 for 16 points in 40 minutes. Only Tatum has attempted more shots this season with 22 against Elon on Dec. 21.
“All three of them when they’re in the ball game can get their shots,” Krzyzewski said. “I think when there are only two of them in or you can counter on only two of them, then the defense on those two guys becomes harder because you can make more decisions to play off or half guard.”
With Allen back on the court in Duke’s 75-70 statement win over Florida State in its home finale this past Saturday, the trio combined to go 11-of-29. Allen, though, came off the bench in favor of Frank Jackson, who had one of his better games of the year.
When Duke last faced UNC, on Feb. 9, Allen led the bunch with 25 points on nine made shots, the most makes he had since his career-high 34-point outing at UNLV. He was 12-of-16. It was the only time this season his shots made were in double figures. Kennard, who has taken a team-high 394 shots this season, has had four with making 11 shots four times this season.
“We can be a very dangerous offensive team,” Kennard said.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
No. 17 Duke at No. 5 UNC
When: 8:20 p.m. Saturday
Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill