Duke returned to the court after a 13-day absence-its longest of the season-with a 85-66 win over Gardner-Webb.
The game was hardly a masterpiece. Mike Krzyzewski noted that "The last 13 days for some of these guys have been exhausting. . . . You don't stop playing for two weeks and not have some slippage."
That early slippage mostly was on the defensive end of the court. Gardner-Webb made their first six shots from the field.
That left them tied, at 14-14, because the Blue Devils also came out the gates on fire. Krzyzewski noted "we were sharp. The ball was moving fast. We made good reads. Guys were really unselfish."
Gardner-Webb led once, at 10-9 and there were five ties, the last that 14-14 deadlock. Three-pointers by Quinn Cook and Andre Dawkins put Duke up 20-16 and the Blue Devils started getting some stops. Rodney Hood completed a 26-8 Duke run with a 3-pointer which made the score 35-18.
Gardner-Webb regrouped and cut the gap to 12 before Hood went coast-to-coast right before the buzzer, making the score 53-39.
Duke shot 58.8% from the field in the first half but Gardner-Webb shot 62.5% themselves. So, how was Duke up 14? A 16-7 rebounding advantage was a big reason, as was a 7-3 edge in made 3-pointers. Duke only turned it over three times in the first half.
The first half also marked another chapter in the return to prominence of Andre Dawkins. The grad student hit a trio of first-half 3-pointers and added a mid-range bucket, for 11 points.
Krzyzewski said it was no surprise. "Andre played like he's been practicing. He had the least exhausting exam schedule because he's in graduate school. His exams were over a long time ago. He was able to come in extra, he and Steve [Wojciechowski] would come in and put in extra work. He's been practicing great."
Rodney Hood could barely hide his admiration for what Dawkins can do for the Duke offense. "It makes it a whole lot easier. He draws two people because people are trying to find him. He's an amazing weapon, the best shooter in the country in my opinion."
Still, Duke wasn't happy with its first-half defensive performance. Tyler Thornton noted that "we didn't get the stops we thought we should have gotten. Guys were playing hard. The guys coming off the bench gave us great minutes."
Dawkins agrees. "The first half I don't think we played as good a defense as we wanted to. But we were able to play better in the second half. We have to keep building on the defensive end. That has to be our identity. We just had to buckle down and start really playing our defense and get some stops. Once we got into the flow of the game, our defense picked up."
Both teams cooled off after intermission. Jabari Parker hit a 3-pointer to put Duke up 56-39 before the Blue Devils went three minutes without a point. But the visitors were unable to capitalize much, cutting the lead only to a dozen before Duke regained momentum with an 18-7 run. Duke basically kept the lead in the 20-point range for most of the second half, never really knocking out Gardner-Webb but never being seriously threatened either.
Parker (21), Dawkins (18), Cook (16) and Hood (15) accounted for 70 of Duke's 85 points. Cook had nine assists, all in the first half, while Amile Jefferson tied his career high with 10 rebounds, in only 12 minutes. Duke dominated the glass, outrebounding Gardner-Webb 37-22.
Thornton said Duke got what it was looking for coming off the long break. "After being off for 13 days, going through exams, this was the win we needed. . . . We were excited to play tonight. The season is about us. We knew we weren't going to have the students here. That's part of the game. That's something we have to deal with."
Duke plays UCLA Thursday night, in the Big Apple. The Blue Devils will practice at Duke tomorrow and then leave for New York City, in large part because the dorms are shutting down for the long semester break.
Amile Jefferson added four points, an assist and a block to his 10 rebounds. But he also missed both of his free throws, dropping him to 8-26 for the season.
Rasheed Sulaimon played five scoreless minutes. Krzyzewski addressed Sulaimon's struggles. "He's not playing well. You can see it. It's not about attitude. He's got a good attitude. He's a good team player. . . . It's not going well for him. His teammates are really good with him, he's really good with his teammates."
Krzyzewski also noted "When Andre's playing that well, you've got to give him minutes."
Speaking of Dawkins, his 18 points are the most he's scored since he scored 22 at Florida State back on February 23, 2012. Dawkins now has 829 career points.
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