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Duke Chomps Gators In The Garden, 84-74

Jayson Tatum added an imposing offensive element to Duke’s already impressive arsenal.

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Jimmy V Classic
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Amile Jefferson #21 of the Duke Blue Devils blocks a shot by KeVaughn Allen #5 of the Florida Gators in the first half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

In New York, Duke played with a hobbled Grayson Allen and perhaps a limited Frank Jackson as well: the starting guards combined for nine points and Matt Jones didn’t scratch at all.

No matter: Luke Kennard had 29 points. Amile Jefferson had 24 points and 15 rebounds. And in his second game back from an injured ankle, Jayson Tatum finished with 22 points, eight rebounds, three steals, an assist and a block.

Duke shot 32-60 overall; those three combined to shoot 29-41 - nearly 71%.

It’s a bit sobering when you look at it like that. Allen hit two shots and Jackson hit one.

In the long run though those guys will get their buckets.

The main take away from this game?

Duke has insane offensive potential. And Luke Kennard is in play for National Player of The Year.

Who’s playing better?

Not many people. As Duke has had injury after injury, Kennard has consistently stepped up his game. And it’s not like he’s leaping tall buildings in a single bound.

Kennard does two things better than just about anyone in the country: first, he operates in a confined space brilliantly. It’s very hard to box him in. And secondly, he always knows pretty much exactly how much room he has in that space. He doesn’t need to fly to get a shot off over a taller player; he just understands the angles brilliantly. If you give him any room at all, he can get a shot off and odds are 50-50 (literally .500 right now) that it’s going in.

Take a look at his stats from last year to this.

Luke Kennard Freshman and Sophomore Statistics
2016-17 DUKE 35.4 6.7-13.3 .500 2.2-6.0 .370 3.9-4.4 .875 6.8 3.2 0.4 0.9 1.9 1.6 19.4
2015-16 DUKE 26.7 3.9-9.3 .421 1.5-4.8 .320 2.4-2.8 .889 3.6 1.5 0.2 0.9 1.9 0.8 11.8

His free throw shooting is slightly down but he’s only missed five and only missed more than one (two) in one game (that’d be Grand Canyon).

The best compliment you can give someone who plays basketball is to say they’re a basketball player, that they truly understand the game.

Kennard really does. Everything is in the flow of the game. Everything is economical. And he understands when someone else has a better situation and willingly gives the ball up.

He showed potential last year but we didn’t think he’d be this far along already. He’s having a brilliant season and Florida, arguably, was his best game.

We could say this about some Duke guys one the years - Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Shane Battier, JJ Redick, Tyus Jones - it’s a privilege to watch Kennard play. It really is.

You can say that about Jefferson too.

When he first was forced into action as a skinny freshman, at NC State, he was woefully unprepared and fouled out fairly quickly (he still shot 5-7 though).

That’s a long time ago now.

Jefferson has turned himself into an outstanding player.

As a junior, remember, he was willing to move to the bench to help Duke get better, and Duke won a national championship.

Last year, he was injured in December and Duke lost a real force inside.

This year he seems to be making up for missing last season: against a very good Florida team, Jefferson had 24 points, 15 rebounds, two blocks, two assists and a steal.

He’s developed some nice go-to moves inside and has thrown up five double-doubles in 10 games. In fact, he’s just a hair under averaging a double-double.

Kennard and Jefferson would normally be balanced by Allen and Jackson, but both guys are dealing with foot problems (Allen has adjusted - he had eight assists).

So the extra offense came from Tatum.

In just his second game, Tatum emphatically showed that he belonged. He has a nifty spin move around the basket. He had a step-back jumper. He was 8-8 from the line. He didn’t hit a three but was close to the line on one. He is tremendous on the break.

All three guys played brilliantly and keep in mind, again, that the offense was basically without the three starting guards, Allen, Jackson and Jones.

When you have to worry about Kennard, Tatum, Allen, Jackson and Jones shooting and driving, and Jefferson in the lane, what do you do? What choices do you make? We’ve seen Duke’s passing game a couple of times now, briefly, elevate to the sublime. What do you do with that?

And soon enough we’ll see Bolden and Harry Giles causing mayhem in the lane too.

There’s no question that Duke has work to do, and getting everyone healthy would still be great, but in New York, for the first time, we began to get an idea of just how imposing this team can be. And now it looks like Giles may play soon as well.

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