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Duke Comeback Stuns Florida, 87-84

Unbelievable comeback by the Blue Devils

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University of Florida v Duke University
PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 26: Marvin Bagley III #35 of the Duke Blue Devils drives to the basket as KeVaughn Allen #5 of the Florida Gators defends in the second half of the game during the PK80-Phil Knight Invitational presented by State Farm at the Moda Center on November 26, 2017 in Portland, Oregon. Duke won the game 87-84.
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Okay, let’s try and figure out what just happened. Duke and Florida were in a mismatch sort of game and for most of it, the advantage went to the smaller, quicker, better shooting team.

Duke did come back after Florida’s hot start in the first half, but in the second, the Gators kicked into a higher gear and had a 17 point lead with 10 minutes to go.

Duke cut it down to eight when Trevon Duval hit a three and then two foul shots, but Florida built it back to 12 at 7:29.

Wendell Carter, who struggled most of the night, hit a layup and Marvin Bagley hit two free throws to cut the lead back to eight by the 6:26 mark.

We didn’t think Duke was putting on enough game pressure to make Florida balk but the defense certainly improved and the Gators did start making more mistakes: first they didn't score a basket between the 7:29 mark (a Keith Stone layup) and the 4:38 mark (Jalen Hudson hit a layup). Yet UF was still up by 10.

Duval scored a layup with 4:02 left to cut it to eight, then Bagley hit free throws to cut it to 86-72.

Then Grayson Allen hit a three after a beautiful fake and suddenly it was a three point game with 3:14 left.

Florida’s KeVaughn Allen hit a shot to push it back to five, then Bagley cut it back to 84-81. Then Bagley scored again to cut it to one.

After a Duval steal, Gary Trent hit a pair of free throws and shockingly, Duke had the lead.

He hit another pair to put Duke up 87-84 with :09 left. Florida’s Egor Koulechov, so brilliant in so many ways during this game, bobbled the ball and couldn't get a decent shot off and Duke won.

That doesn’t begin to explain how unlikely this was. Teams don’t go up 17 by accident.

Florida was cruising and had made the mismatches flow its way. Duke spent the first part of the game watching the smaller, quicker and more experienced Gators zip the ball around the perimeter for a three or darting inside for a layup.

The Blue Devils eventually began to exploit their own mismatches more, forcing Florida to play a bit more slowly than they have so far this season.

The biggest part of Duke’s advantage, in this game and so far this season, has clearly been Bagley.

What can you say? This weekend we were thinking that the best way to defend the guy might be to develop sort of hack-a-Shaq strategy (bang-a-Bagley?)

It may be too late for that. Not only did Bagley finish with 30 points and 15 rebounds, he shot 9-10 from the line.

This followed a 9-13 effort against Texas.

Earlier this season we thought free throw shooting might be a team weakness, not just a Bagley problem, and it might still be on both counts.

Not this game: Duke hit 19-20.

The thing that makes Bagley so difficult is that sure you can double-team him, but first that leaves someone else open and Bagley’s smart enough to either find him or get the ball to someone else who will, and when the shot goes up, there’s not much you can do to keep him off the boards.

If he’s close, he’s probably going to get it. And if he’s hitting his foul shots, then basically, if Duke stays close, Duke can win.

To borrow from baseball, Bagley is the best closer in college basketball. He just has so many ways to beat you.

Our concern has been that Duke hasn’t been anywhere near its potential. Duval is having some typical freshman-type issues. According to one report, Allen has a wrist issue that’s limited his shooting. Carter has been great for the most part but has had games where he’s had to approach things differently and then struggled. Florida was like that for most of the game.

Trent hadn’t played overly well lately, at least not until Sunday night. He was damn good Sunday night.

And Duke still could use more from its bench. Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden played 12 minutes each. DeLaurier scored six and have five rebounds and two steals. Bolden had two points, three rebounds and two assists.

Alex O’ Connell scored three but our sense was that something changed when he was in the game. It was nothing tangible, just a sense that he affected Florida’s rhythm somehow and disrupted it a bit.

Look, you don’t want to be in a situation every night where you fall behind and come back because one guy seems unstoppable. Eventually someone will stop him or he’ll just be off or sick or having girl friend problems. No one is perfect all the time.

Still, when you consider that Bagley should be a high school senior and that he’s throwing up 25+ points and 15 rebounds like it was something anyone can do, it’s amazing.

Because pretty clearly, it’s not something anyone can do.

The most dominant player in college right now is a skinny freshman who has managed to deal with everything people have thrown at him so far. It’s starting to take on the feel of players like Christian Laettner, Tim Duncan or Danny Manning. Those guys were so dominant that people threw the kitchen sink at them and they still managed to do it.

Can it last? We’ll see. For one thing, the circus atmosphere is building fast and that’s a challenge in and of itself.

For as long as it does last though, and it could be for a long time, we’re seeing one of the best, most instinctive talents people have seen in years.

Marvin Bagley is the real deal.

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