Duke Now

Fewer fouls. More playing time. How Duke’s Wendell Carter is making a bigger impact.

Duke forward Wendell Carter Jr, right, tries to get the ball away from Notre Dame forward Matt Gregory, left, in Duke’s 88-66 win on Jan. 29.
Duke forward Wendell Carter Jr, right, tries to get the ball away from Notre Dame forward Matt Gregory, left, in Duke’s 88-66 win on Jan. 29. cliddy@newsobserver.com

In the beginning of the basketball season, it was difficult for Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr. to reach his potential.

Carter, a freshman forward starter, was struggling with early foul trouble or mistakes, and the Duke coaching staff would have to take him out of games.

The earlier in a game he fouled, the less he would play. Through his first 17 games, he had played 30 minutes or more in only three of those games. He averaged three fouls per game during that 17-game stretch and would often have to sit early to keep from fouling out. He averaged 24.7 minutes per game. In a few of those games, Duke had beat its opponents by large margins, so the starters sat earlier than normal.

But to get more playing time, Carter had to foul less earlier in games. Carter is averaging 2.8 fouls per game over the last five games since Duke’s 83-75 win over Miami on Jan. 15. While the difference in Carter’s fouls per game average is not much different, Carter isn’t fouling as early as he was in previous games, and he is averaging less fouls in more minutes played.

He is averaging 32.2 minutes per game in Duke’s last five games.

To get that increase in minutes, Carter has watched film and worked with his coaches. And eventually he was able to reduce those fouls.

“I watched a lot of film with the coaches,” Carter said. “Plays where I was reaching in. A lot of unnecessary fouls that I was getting. Like 40 or 50 feet away from the bucket, so I eliminated a lot of those fouls so that’s what getting me away from being in foul trouble.”

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has said Carter is playing smarter.

Over the last five games, Carter has played 30 minutes or more in four of those games. Since then, he’s had everybody on notice.

When Carter is in the game, good things happen, especially when he is coupled with freshman forward Marvin Bagley III. The two freshman are among the best rebounders in the country.

Carter is averaging 14.5 points per game, 2 blocks and 9.2 rebounds this season. He’s ranked 37th in the country in rebounds, and an underrated part of his game is his defense. Carter is is averaging 18 points per game, 11.2 rebounds per game and 2.8 blocks over the last five games.

But Carter thinks he can still do better and make an impact in other places.

“Not so much as scoring and getting rebounds, but I can do more for my team, doing more of the dirty work for my team so we can come out on top of these close games that we’ve been having,” he said.

What is the dirty work?

Carter says getting rebounds that go long, diving on the floor for loose balls and taking charges.

“I want to capitalize on those opportunities,” he said. “I’ve done it in the past, but I want to do it to show I can do it night in and night out.”

“For instance, against (Virginia),” Carter added. “I think in my opinion we should have won. We made a lot of young mistakes and we’re cleaning them up each practice.”

That game, a 65-63 loss to No. 2 Virginia on Jan. 27, Carter had 14 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks.

On Saturday, Duke will play St. John’s at Madison Square Garden – the place where Krzyzewski got his 1,000th career win on Jan. 25, 2015, in a 77-68 win over St. John’s.

“St. John’s is a very talented team,” Carter said. “They have a lot of great guards if you watch film. It’s going to be a great defensive game for us where we’re going to communicate a lot, stop ball screens and do all the little things and be more than victorious.”

And for Carter, as arguably Duke’s most valuable defensive player, he knows that starts with him.

Jonathan M. Alexander: 919-829-4822, @jonmalexander

Duke at St. John’s

When: Noon, Saturday

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

TV: Fox