Duke defeated Virginia Union 106-64 Tuesday night, the first of two exhibition games before the season begins for real.
No surprise and no real reason for a traditional play-by-play. Virginia Union led a couple of times early, the last at 8-7 before R.J. Barrett scored 11 points in about as long as it took to type this sentence and it was 18-10 and the rout was on.
So, it’s easy to dismiss this as nothing more than a glorified scrimmage.
But five of these guys had never played a game in Cameron before and even Barrett, who’s represented Canada internationally with great success, admitted he was nervous.
About those freshmen. In ancient days of yore, exhibition games were a chance to become reacquainted with old friends.
Like returning starters.
You remember returning starters.
Duke doesn’t have any. Duke is replacing its entire starting lineup for the first time since the 1958-’59 season.
Duke’s 1958 team started five seniors.
Duke’s 2018 team did not.
So, it’s perhaps appropriate that a quartet of freshmen replaced the four departed one-and-dones.
But it’s not just saying hello the new kids on the team. Duke’s seven returnees are all jockeying for new and improved roles.
So, what did we learn tonight?
Well, given that it’s still October and Duke’s opponent was a game but over-matched CIAA team, probably not much.
Certainly, some of our assumptions were confirmed. Freshmen stars R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish scored 43 of Duke’s 52 first-half points.
Duke loves to run but there’s a learning curve on defense.
But some things stand out. Duke converted 40 field goals and assisted on 33 of these, with Tre Jones and Cameron Reddish having nine each. Twice Jones passed up an open layup in transition to hit a trailer for the dunk, first Williamson, then Reddish.
“We’re all very unselfish on this team,” Jones says. “We’re always looking to make the extra pass, pass up a good shot for a great shot knowing that a great shot is a higher-percentage shot. We know for us to keep moving the ball and guys will be open.”
Zion Williamson was on the other end of a lot of those assists; he led everyone with 29 points, six more than Barrett. Williamson hit 11-of-13 from the field.
“That’s Coach K because Coach K says the best teams, the teams that win NCAA championships, share the ball, know where the ball needs to be in certain situations,” Williamson says. “The more we play, the better we’ll be.”
Duke did get sloppy on transition defense in the first half.
“Coach was on us hard for that, just getting back,” Jones says. “We had a lot of nerves coming in. We were flying around, trying to pick up guys on defense. But we kept losing guys because we weren’t talking enough.”
Krzyzewski says the defensive woes can be corrected, saying that Duke is working hard on its man-to-man defense.
“I thought in the first half, they really pushed it on us. We tried to press too much and that’s me. We gambled a lot and every time we gambled and didn’t get it--and we didn’t get it most of the time--it produced a numerical advantage for them and they took advantage of it. In the second half, we just played half court, played man and I thought we did well. I liked our effort on the defensive end. In the first half, we made them talk more than they should have. But we talked well in the second half. But we were a little all over the place in the first half.”
Krzyzewski added that Jones gives Duke the kind of on-the-ball-defender it hasn’t had in a several years.
Duke’s three-point shooting has been questioned and we still don’t know what will happen against a better team. But Virginia Union played zone the entire way. Jones says Duke expects teams to zone Duke a lot and working against a zone gave Duke a chance to gauge where they’re at.
The 33 assists looks good but Duke also knocked down 13-of-31 from beyond the arc, with six different Devils finding success, including walk-on Mike Buckmire. Barrett was 3-for-7, Jones 2=for-4.
The four freshman can’t do it all, of course, and some of the returnees made a case for seeing the floor. Marques Bolden was the fifth starter and he scored six points, with as many rebounds. But he also turned it over four times.
Javin DeLaurier is still rusty after missing practice with a foot injury. Krzyzewski said Alex O’Connell has not been playing well in practice and he was the ninth guy to see the floor. But Krzyzewski said O’Connell’s 10 points and four rebounds were the best he’s played since he was injured in Canada.
Krzyzewski also said that Joey Baker - he’s the fifth freshman - had his best week of practice. Baker had two points and three rebounds.
But junior forward Jack White seems the most likely role player to move past role player. White hit a couple of bombs and finished with 11 points and three rebounds. But he also showed a poise and toughness that should help the young Devils cohere.
“I think you saw that in Canada. He had his opportunity and he’s been consistent. He expects it and his teammates expect it.”
Cameron Reddish came in with a reputation as a player sometimes prone to passivity. And Krzyzewski said he would like to see Reddish shoot more than his 4-for-11 effort tonight. But he’s playing with a broken rib and hasn’t even missed a practice. So, perhaps time to revisit that narrative to tougher-than-advertised.
Duke out-rebounded Virginia Union 39-30, while forcing 23 turnovers, with 10 steals and six blocks.
Jones led Duke with 31 minutes played, proof of his importance to the team. Krzyzewski again indicated that Reddish will be the primary ball-handler when Jones sits.
The Ferris State Bulldogs are next, Saturday at 4 P.M., a time when the Duke football team will be playing at Pittsburgh. A good time to try out all those streaming apps.
Ferris State defeated Northern State 71-69 to win the 2018 D-2 national title. Ferris State is located in Big Rapids, Michigan.