It was a good news, bad news sort of night for Duke. Bad news first: Duke came into this game without Matt Jones (groin injury) and five minutes in, Amile Jefferson was gone too after twisting an ankle on a follow up shot.
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Duke needs them both. This is not a deep team, nor is it an experienced group.
With Jefferson and Jones out, the Blue Devils had to rely on veteran leaders Marshall Plumlee and Grayson Allen, and Allen is stretching it a bit.
His talent is undeniable, but he didn't play a whole lot last year. He's still unproven as a consistent player, much less a reliable leader.
It's still quite early, but in the first two exhibition games, Plumlee has been a different player. Gone is the player who occasionally had to be talked down by his teammates. Gone is the big, happy go lucky youngest kid. Or if not gone, at least matured.
Marshall has always been the most extroverted Plumlee, and he has never attempted to hide his emotions. Now you see the fire but not the smoke. He's gotten his game down to basics. He'll never be a 20/10 man, but you could look at him as a more athletic version of Brian Zoubek as a senior and not be too far off.
Plumlee, who came to Duke big but a bit soft, is anything but now, and now that he is playing with significantly more control, he's vastly more effective. Plumlee finished with 11 points, six boards, three assists, three blocks and three steals. That's with 5-5 from the floor and in 22 minutes.
Allen racked up 19 points on 7-14, 2-6 from three point range, six boards, seven assists and three steals.
But the freshmen were to a large extent the story. Brandon Ingram finished with 24 point, Luke Kennard had 25, Chase Jeter had a double-double with 13 points and 11 boards and Derryck Thornton finished with 11 points and six rebounds, though he didn't shoot as well as he did in the Florida Southern game.
Duke again rebounded well as a team, getting 54 to Livingstone's 38.
But to us the real story was the defense. Duke forced 24 turnovers and held Livingstone to 28.8% from the floor. Duke scored 34 points off of those turnovers.
Duke used a variety of defenses but to us the most remarkable aspect was just how disruptive Ingram was.
Ingram's offensive potential was very clear in high school, but we didn't realize his defensive potential. First, he's incredibly long-armed. We watched him on the foul line and his hand covered the D on his shorts - and like everyone, Duke wears baggy shorts.
Ingram finished with five steals and was incredibly disruptive to Livingstone. We kept thinking two things: first, he could model his game on Kawhi Leonard's, but his offensive upside might be higher.
And second, he's going to drive Jim Boeheim crazy. He'd fit into Boeheim's 2-3 like a dream.
Even without Jones and Jefferson, who are probably Duke's best defenders, Duke was much, much better defensively than we saw against Florida Southern.
Incidentally, while we thought that Thornton might start, particularly with Jones out, Kennard got the nod. We've only seen him twice now, but he seems like a very, very sharp player. He won't keep getting open shots for long, but smart plays will continue. As Coach K likes to say, in various ways, being a player is better than playing a position. Kennard is a player.
Getting Jones and Jefferson back is critical. Jones dressed but didn't warm up or (obviously) play. We don't expect a huge recovery period for him.
Jefferson is less certain. He left the court after his injury then came back with shoes on and no crutches, so that seemed positive. However, Coach K said after the game that his condition wouldn't be clear on Thursday and there were X-rays taken. So we'll see.
No matter how you look at it though, despite the injuries, there were a lot of positives Wednesday night. It'll take some time to bring the freshmen up to speed, but this team has a lot of potential.