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Zags Knock Off Duke In Maui, 89-87

Duke’s comeback was tremendous but came up slightly short.

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Maui Invitational - Duke v Gonzaga
 LAHAINA, HI - NOVEMBER 21: Marques Bolden #20 and Tre Jones #3 of the Duke Blue Devils help up teammate RJ Barrett #5 from the floor during the first half of the game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at the Lahaina Civic Center on November 21, 2018 in Lahaina, Hawaii.
Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

While Gonzaga shot lights out for most of the game, hitting 70% for a good bit of it and holding a double digit lead for a long time, we were preparing to thank the Zags for teaching Duke a good lesson or two.

Duke fans still should, but the Blue Devil comeback showed a lot of heart and learned a great deal and the lessons aren’t the ones we necessarily thought were being delivered.

The biggest lesson is simple: experience is usually more valuable than talent.

Duke showed a lot of heart in this game. Jack White was steady, as he has been all season, and Javin DeLaurier was pretty reliable. Marquese Bolden wasn’t as good as he was against Auburn but he wasn’t a liability or anything.

Of Duke’s freshmen, Cam Reddish struggled the most, shooting 3-9 and getting in foul trouble again. Other than vs. Eastern Michigan, he’s had at least three fouls in each game.

Zion Williamson’s shooting came down to earth in Maui, as it was bound to sooner or later, but he had some real standout moments in this game, particularly when it came to rebounding and defense and shot blocking. He finished with 22 points, 10 rebound and four blocks.

His blocks are falling into broad categories and should be named accordingly: he had the takeaway block against Kentucky, where he just took it away on his way downcourt. You could call it a confiscatory block too. We’ll have to work on that one. He’s also blocked some three point shots which is not that easy so we’re going to call those Threejects.

RJ Barrett may have tried to do to much at the end but big deal. The guy has immense heart and a desire to step up when most guys, as Michael Jordan pointed out long ago, look down in a huddle.

It didn’t work this game, but he never stopped trying. He hit Williamson with an assist with 1:52 left, then tried for a dagger three with 0:57, saw a drive blocked with 0:42, had a shot blocked with 0:34, missed a layup with 0:13, then had another blocked at the buzzer.

Out of all of that, the one we loved most was the three attempt. He was swinging for the fences, bless him.

He needs some seasoning and they’ll break the film down with him, but he wanted it. It was great to see.

Williamson upped his game late too. For whatever reason, he wasn’t as effective in Hawaii as he has been, but he made a major impact down the stretch and is capable of inflicting chaos like no one else in the game today.

In some ways though we were happiest with Tre Jones. For the first time, he was put in a pressure situation and he really came through. He hit two huge shots in the final 3:15 and his defense was a big part of Duke’s comeback (witness his layup followed immediately by a steal).

In the end though, Gonzaga held on and the experienced team beat the more talented younger team.

Gonzaga passed beautifully and kept Duke off balance and by the time Duke figured out how to counter it, it was almost too late.

Even so, this was an incredibly valuable experience.

When Duke gets back, they’ll break down the film. We’re guessing they’ll talk to Reddish about discretion and fouls and how to be aggressive. They’ll probably follow up on Coach K’s comment Tuesday that Williamson didn’t seem to be having as much fun. They’ll probably focus on the positives of Barrett’s late-game play (his desire to make the play) vs. smart decisions. He’s the alpha male of this group but that doesn't always mean that you shoot. Sometimes, like Brian Zoubek in 2010, it means forcing other guys to match your intensity. Sometimes it can just mean forcing your man out of his comfort zone.

And we also think (again we’re guessing here) that Duke will point to how well Gonzaga communicated with each other as an example to emulate.

Clearly winning is better than losing, but when you do lose, how you process the lessons is the important thing.

Gonzaga really took it to Duke and for a young team that has gotten tons of hype, seeing a team work hard and so together is a very valuable afternoon of instruction.

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