Duke ended the non-conference home portion of its 2016-’17 season with a 65-55 win over Tennessee State Monday night, running their record to 11-1.
The game was both closer than the final score indicated and not as close as the final score indicated.
Confused? Stay with me.
TSU is the kind of team that makes you look bad. They take their time on offense, play defense with a physicality that’s hard to match and they absolutely do not take plays off. They started three redshirt seniors and two juniors and were able to take NC State into overtime just nine days ago.
But it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that Duke was anything resembling sharp. Matt Jones admitted that Duke has been “all over the place” the last week, while Mike Krzyzewski acknowledged that Frank Jackson has practiced only once since Duke got back from Los Vegas.
Then again, everyone from Krzyzewski on down deflected any attempt to focus on exams as an excuse.
So, let’s take them at their words.
The first half was a street fight.
“We’ve just got to play better,” Matt Jones said. “We knew they were a veteran team that has seen a lot, so we knew we had a fight on our hands. We weren’t able to match their intensity early in the game. We had little stretches here and there but we’ve got to play better.”
Amile Jefferson agreed. “We knew it was going to be a 40-minute fight. . . . . We have to show our young guys. They’re still learning that. We were frustrated with ourselves early. We made it hard on ourselves, which made it hard to finish and it carried over.”
It took Duke more than two minutes to score, more than four to take a lead. The half ended with Duke up 27-23, neither team ever leading by more than five points.
Duke did end the half on a 13-4 run, after trailing 19-14 and would have had a bigger lead had they not shot 28 percent from the field and 65 percent from the line.
Then again, Duke kept TSU off the line, held them to 1-12 from beyond the arc and allowed only one offensive rebound.
Any thoughts that Duke would come out after intermission and pull away were quickly silenced. Jordan Reed hit a bomb 11 seconds into the half and five minutes later the visitors took their final lead, 36-34.
Duke finally put it all together. TSU coach Dana Ford said his team took some quick shots and lost Duke on the break.
“There was a stretch there in the second half where we kind of got mixed up in transition and gave them some uncontested looks. Tatum really made some tough shots and that took some air out of us.”
Grayson Allen broke the tie with a 3-pointer, than Luke Kennard added two more, a 9-0 run in 2:10.
“We played defense and we shared the ball,” Krzyzewski said of the decisive run. “You didn’t know who scored, just that Duke scored. When we do that, we’re really good.”
Jayson Tatum grabbed three defensive rebounds during this run, each of them leading to one of those 3-pointers.
Tatum got the start but scored only two points over the first 31 minutes. But he found other ways to help his team, digging out tough rebounds, blocks, and steals.
“He did dirty work in the second half. . . . That was a big game for him. . . . Be a player. If you define yourself by a shot, you’re not going to be a real winner. You define yourself by the score. Any player who defines himself by the score, will find a way to win.”
Tatum eventually found his shot, knocking down a couple of 3s, the second giving Duke a 59-39 lead, ending a 25-3 run that gave Duke the separation it needed.
“For about 10 or 11 minutes of the second half, I thought we played beautiful basketball,” Krzyzewski said.
The less said about the final few minutes, the better. If you’re not a fan of the delay, then you’ll cite this as exhibit A. Or maybe Duke just put it in cruise control. But the Tigers just kept digging and digging, cutting that 20-point lead in half at the final buzzer.
If you just read a transcript of Mike Krzyzewski’s post-game quote, you would think he was delighted with the win. And who could argue with “it was a game with two teams that really know how to play defense.”
But body language and tone suggested that he saw some of the things the rest of us saw.
We have no problems,” Krzyzewski said. “We’ve just got growth. We’ve just got to grow.”
- Amile Jefferson grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds, despite a grad-student work load. Krzyzewski used the word “monster” while suggesting that Jefferson’s 1-8 foul shooting was a sign of fatigue.
- Kennard led everyone with 24 points, 7-10 from the field, 3-5 on 3s, 7-8 from the line. He did have four of Duke’s 12 turnovers.
- Grayson Allen added 12 points and five rebounds.
- Yes, Harry Giles played. Four uneventful first-half minutes. Krzyzewski says Giles is physically fine but needs to get back in game competition.
- ` Duke out-rebounded TSU 41-29, with Tatum adding nine boards, Duke ended the game with 12 assists, after notching only three in the first half.
- That non-conference home winning streak can rest for a while, at 132.
- Kennard, No. 5 Duke Top Tennessee State 65-55
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