Duke captured the 2K Empire Classic title with an 81-73 win over Georgetown Friday night in Madison Square Garden.
It was not an easy win. Georgetown jumped to a 9-2 lead. Duke closed to 12-11 but the inspired Hoyas dominated the next 10 minutes or so, getting its biggest lead at 29-18, with 6:11 left in the first half.
Lots of things went wrong early. The offense was stagnant, Matthew Hurt and Alex O’Connell left their games somewhere between the locker room and the court, foul trouble became an issue and Georgetown played every second of the game like they expected to win.
Duke started 4 for 21 from the field.
But the defense kept Duke in the game and finally the offense caught up. Georgetown went over three minutes without a point and Duke took its first lead at 33-31 on a Vernon Carey layup.
James Akinjo hit a circus shot inside and the teams went into the locker room even at 33.
Tre Jones had only a pair of foul shots in the first half. But he jump-started Duke’s second half with a steal and layup, a layup in the half-court and a 50-foot pass to Vernon Carey for a layup, a 6-0 run in 63 seconds that prompted a Patrick Ewing timeout.
“That was the start,” Wendell Moore said. “We knew the energy was there. The arena was into it, the bench was into it, we were into it. When he gets going, we’re a very hard team to beat.”
Georgetown hung tough, keeping the Duke lead in the 6 to 10 point range much of the second half, mainly behind NC State transfer Omer Yurtseven, who took advantage of Carey’s foul trouble by abusing Javin DeLaurier.
But Duke looked like the number one team in the country most of the half, moving the ball, hitting some threes and defending at a high level.
Cassius Stanley and Moore joined Carey and Jones in playing at a high level. A 3-point play on the boards by Stanley gave Duke a 68-55 lead, a Moore layup a 72-59 advantage.
Stanley’s three-pointer gave Duke its biggest lead at 77-63, with five minutes left.
Mike Krzyzewski praised Moore for his all-around play during this stretch.
“We can say it’s supposed to be easy, but you’re in this heavyweight fight and you’re tired. I thought we made a couple tired turnovers when they put the press on, but we also scored quickly. Wendell was a star during that. He made a turnover or two, but his move from half court a couple times to take it to the basket -- they were huge. They were huge for us.”
Maybe Duke put it on cruise control a little early. Or maybe Georgetown deserves some credit; a lot actually. The Hoyas dug down on defense and cut it to four points, at 77-73, with 42 seconds left.
Carey missed a couple of foul shots during the 4:34 drought. But Jones and then Stanley knocked down a pair of foul shots and Duke walked off with a hard-earned victory.
“Nothing is perfect,” Krzyzewski summed up. “They played well too. We did just a little bit more than they did.”
Duke answered some questions and raised some others. Duke overcame both early adversity and a physical, motivated opponent.
But that deep, balanced team? The one with little separation?
Stanley (21), Carey (20), Moore (17) and Jones (13) combined for 71 of Duke’s 81 points. Jack White played his usual tough all-around game and Joey Baker gave Duke five big first-half points.
But Duke’s four upperclassmen combined for 5 points, 6 rebounds, 1 for 10 shooting and 8 fouls, with only White playing more than 13 minutes.
And I do not know why Hurt was missing in action during the second half.
Still, 6-0 is 6-0 and this was a good win.
Krzyzewski cited defense and rebounding.
”We felt starting practice that we could be good defensively with Tre there and depth. We’ve really devoted most of our practice time to defense. As a result, I think we’ve gotten tougher. We’ve also spent a lot of time in rebounding. The differential in rebounding tonight was significant to the win.”
But he also acknowledged the trio of freshmen who provided the offense Duke needed to win.
“We’re finding ourselves offensively. I’m still learning about Vernon. I knew he’d be good, but he’s really good. And so, our perimeter has not scored. Tonight, Wendell and Cassius had 38 points. So here, concentrating on defense and giving Wendell and Cassius a little more confidence, that leads to better offense. We’re going to continue to try to find out about ourselves and you find out when you play games like this.”
Stanley agrees with the moving-forward narrative.
“We felt that we didn’t play that well in the first half. Coach got on us and said it’s not about X’s and O’s and it’s not even about playing hard, it’s about fight. We took the fight mentality. They came out throwing blows and we came out throwing blows. It was very physical and tough out there but we played together and got the win.”
Duke outrebounded Georgetown 43-29, led by Carey (10) and Stanley (8). It’s still a small sample size but this beginning to look like a great rebounding team.
And Jones stuffed the stat sheet as usual, 7 assists, 2 steals, 2 rebounds, even 2 blocks.
Yurtseven scored all 21 of his points in the second half. James Akinjo added 19. They were the only Hoyas in double figures.
The teams combined for 45 turnovers and 51 fouls.
Duke is now 9-7 against Georgetown, Krzyzewski 7-3.
The win was Krzyzewski’s 218th coaching the top-ranked team. John Wooden had 217.
Duke is off until Tuesday, when they host Stephen F. Austin, a game inexplicably scheduled for 9 P.M.
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- BOX SCORE (PDF)
- POSTGAME NOTES (PDF)
- COACH K QUOTES (PDF)
- DUKE PLAYER QUOTES (PDF)
- OPPONENT QUOTES (PDF)
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Player Of The Game vs. Georgetown
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Alex O’ Connell