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Thoughts On Duke-St. John’s

What we’re seeing is unusual and should be treasured by anyone who loves the game

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NCAA Basketball: St. John at Duke
 Feb 2, 2019; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Zion Williamson (1) and forward R.J. Barrett (5) react during the second half against the St. John’s Red Storm at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils won 91-61. 
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s tempting when you watch Duke to just go full Zion because the guy is legitimately amazing and does eye popping things several times in every game. And clearly he’s pumped up college basketball like no one has in years.

Yet as much fun as it is to watch Zion OMG Williamson and wait for the next bit of no way, he’d be the first to tell you that he’s part of a team and the first to celebrate his teammates too.

And there was a lot to celebrate in this game.

First, Cam Reddish played with verve and confidence. He hit his first two threes and really minimized his mistakes. He finished with 16 points, three assists, three rebounds and a steal.

RJ Barrett finished with another big game, scoring 15 points, grabbing 14 boards and passing out four assists.

Freshman Tre Jones tied St. John’s junior Shamorie Ponds in knots. Ponds finished with 11 points, all in the second half. By the time he got going, Duke was too far ahead to be caught.

And special praise to Marques Bolden. Even in Canada he looked invisible at times. Lately though he’s been active, smart and combative. He carved a niche first as a shot blocker but now he’s emerging as a complete big man. He’s scoring, rebounding and defending in a way Duke fans have never seen him do before. It’s so much fun to see him come into his own. Duke has had shot blocking big men before of course but we’re not sure that anyone has been as long and as imposing as Bolden is when he’s totally vertical. He’s just imposing.

And then of course there’s Williamson, who had a number of stunning plays in this one. It would be hard to run them all down so let’s just focus on one thing and that was that St. John’s thought it might work to muscle and intimidate him.

Heron is listed at 6-6 and 210. Williamson is 6-7 and weighs somewhere between 270 and 285. Who’s going to intimidate him? LeBron James might intimidate him basketball wise, at least briefly (or not). But even James, who has a chiseled physique, is listed at 250.

Nobody this side of the NFL is going to physically intimidate Williamson. He put an end to it by simply ramming his way towards the basket and knocking (we think it was Heron, but somebody) over.

The best thing though? Just the chemistry, the fact that this group obviously enjoys being together. On one play when Williamson dunked everyone on the floor celebrated. He gets pumped up when his teammates do cool stuff, too.

No one knows how far this team can go and things can change in the blink of an eye as we saw in the Syracuse game when Jones injured his shoulder.

But watching them play with joy, verve, and daring is to watch the beating heart of the game.

We’re not saying that Duke is the heart of the game. We’re saying that the heart of the game is visiting Duke and that increasingly, this team looks unusual. In a way it’s beginning to remind us of the ‘78 team. That team took a similar joy in each other and came together with a certain innocence to barrel to the championship game.

This team has talent to be sure but the chemistry is more exciting than the talent. We hope Duke fans, and indeed fans of college basketball in general, appreciate what we’re seeing and enjoy the ride, no matter how far it takes us, because it’s extraordinary.

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