This is officially the earliest Duke has ever been 1-0.
Of course, had Duke’s 68-66 win over Kansas gone the other way then this would be the earliest Duke has ever been 0-1.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that November 5 is awfully early to be playing college basketball games. The Final Four is five months away for crying out loud. A season isn’t a lifetime anymore. More like a season and a half.
So, everybody is still in full find-out-about-your-team mode.
That includes Duke.
Do we know anything about Duke that we didn’t know Tuesday morning?
Well, some suspicions were confirmed.
We thought that Duke’s defense was better than Duke’s offense and that appears to be the case, both in a good way and a not-so-good way.
Duke harassed Kansas into a jaw-dropping 28 turnovers, 18 in the first half. Pre-season All-American Devon Dotson had a half-dozen by himself.
And Duke forced a confused Jayhawks offense into two crucial shot-clock violations down the stretch.
“Coach emphasized defense the whole year,” Matthew Hurt said “and how good our two guards are pressuring the ball. Our game plan was to pressure and double team and not make it easy for them, so I think we did a good job, and everyone played their role.”
And a good thing. Duke did not shoot well. Not inside, not outside, not from the line.
Kansas went huge, starting Udoka Azuibike and former Duke target David McCormack, the kind of jumbo twin towers that was supposed to be a thing of the past. They clubbed Duke on the glass, 40-30, with McCormack grabbing 13.
And we knew that Tre Jones would have the ball in his hands a lot and that would decide games.
Jones still hasn’t shown a 3-point shot. But his leadership, defense and play-making abilities were crucial to Duke’s win; 15 points, six rebounds, seven assists.
But the one thing we didn’t know, couldn’t know really, was how Duke would respond with the game on the line.
Duke led 33-30 at the half but saw that lead disappear in an 13-0 Kansas run that put them up 45-37.
Gut check time.
Duke passed the test.
There wasn’t really one play or even one player that spurred the comeback and that’s probably a good thing. Jack White hit a big three to cut it to 46-43, had a big steal that negated a 3-on-1-Kansas fast break and grabbed a huge offensive rebound late. Alex O’Connell made a couple of big foul shots and Jones did a little of everything, including game-sealing foul shots, not always a team strength last season.
But the four freshmen combined for 37 of Duke’s 68 points, 12 of the 30 rebounds and an unfreshmen-like infusion of mojo, Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Cassius Stanley all making huge plays down the stretch.
Stanley is the only freshman not to make the McDonald’s All-America team. We knew going in that he is a great run-jump athlete but didn’t know if he could translate that into basketball plays.
That would be a great big yes. Eleven second-half points, each more important the last.
Stanley even seemed surprised.
“I was very surprised honestly. I came in super nervous but the veterans on the team helped. MSG (Madison Square Garden) is a different monster and I loved the environment out there and can only thank my teammates for everything.”
There’s still a lot of work to be done. Mike Krzyzewski has never suggested that this team is anything other than a work in progress. But there’s a lot of raw material and a lot of time left--did I mention that it’s November 5th?
“Obviously, there are things that we can do better,” Tre Jones summed up “but the most important thing was getting the win, and everyone stepped up tonight. Everyone was making plays when we needed to make plays and making those winning plays down the stretch that we needed to make. As a team, the way we prepared definitely set us up to make those plays at the end to win the game.”
Jones is still the key.
“I think the difference maker for us was Tre,” Krzyzewski said. “We have a lot of young guys and a lot of new guys but we’ve really tried to play good defense in our first 30 practices and it paid off tonight. We played really good defense and it starts off with that kid and the poise he had on offense. I’m really happy with my team. This was a terrific win for us against what I think will be a championship contender in Kansas.”
The win ended a three-game Duke losing streak to the Jayhawks and extends Duke’s all-time record in the rivalry to 8-5. It also ran Duke’s record to 6-3 in the Champions Classic.
Jones led Duke with 15 points. He was joined in double figures by Stanley (13), Hurt (11) and Carey (11). Jones’ six rebounds matched Carey for team high and his seven assists led everyone.
Under Krzyzewski Duke is 33-18 in games between top-five teams.
Think about that one for awhile.
Colorado State next, Friday night in Cameron.