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Duke Slays Brey’s Irish, 84-74

Not a perfect game but a wonderful win for Duke

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NCAA Basketball: Duke at Notre Dame
Jan 30, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Luke Kennard (5) shoots as Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Bonzie Colson (35) defends in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. 
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Duke went to Notre Dame in need of a road win and perhaps a bit of a confidence boost and got what they were looking for thanks to solid defense and a much tougher team persona.

Notre Dame runs a wonderful offense which spreads the court and gives players lots of options, and Mike Brey gives them a lot of freedom in that offense.

They have a lot of talented three point shooters and guys have lots of options to penetrate. And Brey has made a habit of recruiting smart players.

Think about it: who was the last bonehead on that team? It’s not easy to answer is it?

Plus he tends to retain them for four years and when it’s time, they’re seasoned and ready to step up.

The last truly stupid thing we can recall a Notre Dame player doing was when Jerian Grant got suspended for a semester and he pretty much made up for it in. his final year.

It’s just a brilliant system from top to bottom.

This year, Brey has done a great job of masking his weaknesses but as ACC play grinds on they’re surfacing.

You can win small, you can win with a great three point attack (witness John Beilein’s intricate Michigan offense) and you can win when you hide your weaknesses.

But you can’t win them all, at least not in a conference this competitive.

But Notre Dame wasn’t all that far off really.

Duke had a major size advantage which the Irish reduced by fouls, sending Amile Jefferson out and putting Harry Giles in trouble with four. Jayson Tatum finished the game with four as well and that put a major crimp in Duke’s ability to be aggressive in the paint.

Notre Dame has had several games go down to the wire recently and in the last four there is one common element, which we can sum up this way: what’s wrong with Steve Vasturia?

Vasturia, who we like to call the Baby Faced Assassin, has been off his feed for four games. He was just 1-9 against Duke and missed all of his three point attempts.

Against Georgia Tech he was 1-7; against UVA, 4-10. Against Syracuse he was 3-9 and against FSU 6-15.

That’s 15-50 in those games or 30%. This is a guy who’s a real offensive threat, and a remarkably smart player. For whatever reason, it’s not working for him now and it’s clearly hurting Notre Dame.

FSU was a three point loss. Syracuse was an 18-point beating. Virginia has owned Notre Dame so let that go. Georgia Tech was a two-point loss though and though Duke won by 10, there were points in Monday night’s game where Notre Dame could have taken it over.

Vasturia is averaging 10 ppg. His production really hurt against Tech and a solid game against Duke...who knows?

It’s a real problem for Notre Dame.

Don’t get us wrong - Duke played well and addressed some weaknesses, particularly on defense. Jeff Capel earned his pay this weekend.

But Notre Dame was missing a key player. Oh, he played. But he wasn’t the ruthless Baby Faced Assassin we greatly admire. In fact, he was pretty invisible.

Duke wasn’t. He didn’t score after his first three baskets, but Amile Jefferson tied down defenders inside. They knew he could hurt them.

Going into the game, everyone focused (rightly) on Luke Kennard. He was a pain for the Irish as he has been all year.

Everyone who played, with the arguable exception of Antonio Vrankovic, played well (two minutes isn’t much to judge by).

Jayson Tatum made some bad decisions early but he settled down and had a serious game with 19 points and 14 rebounds. And in the end he abused Notre Dame’s VJ Beachem, who simply couldn't defend him.

Matt Jones shot 5-6 and again was a solid defender and made key plays at key times, which is sort of a habit for him.

Luke Kennard fouled out with 3:04 to play but he had done a fair amount of damage by that point, including one of the coolest saves you could hope to see. He also shot 5-11 for 16 points.

Grayson Allen was the high scorer for Duke with 21. He’s been pretty conservative since his suspension and the avalanche of attention he’s gotten and of course the crowd went after him. That’s never going to stop.

Harry Giles got in quick foul trouble but he did get five rebounds and four points in nine minutes, which isn’t too bad, and he did okay after Jefferson fouled out and he had to fill in with four of his own.

Frank Jackson had a modest game statistically but he didn’t hurt his team.

Duke shot 51.9% overall to Notre Dame’s 42.9%. The Blue Devils won the boards 38-26 and remarkably shot 23-24 from the foul line.

That’s normally a battle the Irish win, but not this time: Notre Dame hit 19-28, just 67.9%.

Duke answered a lot of questions about toughness, about poise, about roles and about stepping up individually as needed. This is true of everyone but maybe especially true for Tatum. He was a bit erratic early but he was rock solid down the stretch. He made some mistakes with the ball - he should probably pass off to the guards sooner, generally speaking - he had five turnovers - but in general he was much better in this game and for that matter better the longer he played.

In a general sense, he subordinated his individual talents to the team and both he and the team benefited.

After beating BC, Duke went 1-3 in the ACC. Since then the Blue Devils have gone 2-1 and play last-place Pitt at home this weekend.

Nothing is easy this year in the ACC, but Jeff Capel has helped Duke to find a groove. Let’s see if they can keep riding it.

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