After falling to unranked Syracuse at home Monday night, top-ranked Duke, the Tre Jones-less Blue Devils beat previously undefeated No. 4 Virginia 72-70 Saturday night. The Blue Zone breaks down three key takeaways, three key stats and looks forward for the Duke squad:
Three Key Takeaways:
1. Poor 3-point shooting
After shooting just 20.9 percent from deep in Monday’s loss to Syracuse, Duke continued its horrid shooting, finishing just 2-for-14 from beyond the arc. The team missed several open looks throughout the game, preventing the Blue Devils from pulling away and generating any momentum. Duke will need its shooting to improve over the season, but if its superstars continue to struggle from the field, the team will have trouble finishing off opponents.
2. Perimeter defense survives without Tre Jones
The absence of Blue Devil freshman point guard Tre Jones left a notable mark on the team’s defense against Syracuse. On Saturday, the team struggled to get any real pressure on Virginia point guard Kyle Guy, who ended the game with just one turnover, and Duke only forced eight giveaways through the game. However, the defensive effort was greatly aided by the return of Cam Reddish, who had two steals, and the Blue Devils held the Cavaliers to a dismal 3-point shooting display as they ended just 3-for-17 from three. Although Virginia’s backcourt put up decent scoring numbers, Duke’s perimeter defense did just enough to earn a huge victory.
3. RJ Barrett comes through
Without Jones, Barrett was tasked with controlling the Blue Devil offense for much of the game. He delivered. The freshman led all scorers with an efficient 30 points on 57.9 percent shooting. His best work came in the second half, where he went 6-for-7 from the field, and made a couple tough layups with minutes left in the game to keep Duke ahead. Most importantly, though, after struggling from the line early, he converted four huge free throws in the final minute to ice the game and kill the Cavaliers’ comeback attempt. After facing criticism about his ability to finish the game, Barrett proved that he can deliver in the clutch.
Three Key Stats:
1. 18 fouls
The Blue Devils committed far too many fouls during the game, which should have proven costly. Javin DeLaurier fouled out in just 7 minutes of action, while fellow big man Marques Bolden and Reddish both finished with four fouls apiece. A lot of these fouls came late in the shot clock, bailing out the Virginia offense and wasting some solid defensive sequences. The team also committed several offensive fouls, gifting the Cavaliers extra possessions even when Duke looked to score. Fortunately, Virginia shot just 64.7 percent from the line, well below their season average of 76.9 percent. The Blue Devils will need to learn to limit their fouls and adjust to various refereeing decisions to avoid committing so many fouls, because against a solid free throw shooting team like Virginia, they can be the difference between a win and a loss.
2. 58.1 percent shooting from the line
On the other end, the Blue Devils shot abysmally from the line. Players frequently missed both of their free throw attempts, failing to capitalize on the 20 fouls committed by the Cavaliers. The team was able to make just enough free throws to seal the victory, thanks to clutch trips to the line by Barrett, Bolden, and Reddish. However, the Blue Devils left far too many points at the line. This season has been characterized by poor free throw shooting, and it nearly cost Duke this game. The team will need to step up its free throw shooting as it navigates through ACC play.
3. 51 percent from the field
After shooting just 38.7 percent from the field against Syracuse, the Blue Devils stepped it up offensively against the Cavaliers. After a slow first half, the team converted 63.2 percent of their attempts in the second half, just enough to maintain their slim lead over Virginia. The team complemented this effort with 13 second-chance points. Barrett and Zion Williamson did a superb job of slashing to the basket and earning several and-one opportunities. The duo combined for 57 of the team’s points, while White and Bolden secured multiple offensive rebounds that the team capitalized on. In spite of his defensive contributions, Reddish endured a rough offensive night, but the team’s efficiency allowed Duke to earn a close victory. If the entire offense is able to replicate tonight’s performance, opponents will have a hard time containing the Blue Devils.
With No. 2 Michigan and Virginia losing this week, Duke did enough to maintain a high ranking in spite of the loss to Syracuse. With Jones likely to miss more time, the team will need to replicate performances like Saturday’s in order to ensure that they don’t drop any winnable games. The Blue Devils will travel Tuesday to take on Pittsburgh at the Petersen Event Center, marking the first time that former Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel will take on his old team.