Before the game we overheard some fans talking about Duke having a slow start and one said “even if they do, they’ll turn the damn switch. Remember what team you’re talking about.”
It was funny and there’s some truth to that, but we imagined Coach K’s salty response would be something like this: “well how about turning the damn switch at the beginning of the damn game?”
And Duke did start slow. Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly that they started slow but more that they hit a lull. in the latter part of the first half.
Most critically, RJ Barrett got into foul trouble with three in the first half which limited his output in the first 20 minutes.
And after the game, Tre Jones criticized his energy in the first half (even so, he had a great pick on Nik Popovic). Cam Reddish took ownership after a late error and stole the ball for a layup as the halftime buzzer went off.
The second half was a different story altogether.
Duke’s energy shot up and BC’s two point lead lasted less than a minute and BC called a timeout less than two minutes in.
The switch was flipped and Duke never looked back.
And in the second half, we saw a Duke team that we haven’t really seen before, or at least not as completely.
Coach K called for energy and that’s something this team has a lot of. We’re amazed when we watch Jones run, full speed, with his hands either over his head or his body at a difficult angle, one you’d think would limit his speed.
Only it doesn't. Jones’s core strength must be incredible. During the Olympic warm ups in 1992, Bobby Hurley tested faster running with the ball than without which was really strange. Jones is the defensive answer to that. Watch how he can move full speed despite being at really awkward angles. Try running full speed with your hands in the air. It’s a weird but incredibly valuable talent.
Also keep this in mind about Jones: he gets a lot of justified attention for his lack of turnovers, but his judgment and strength and balance help him to avoid fouling too: he’s only had as many as three in two games.
Any review of Duke’s recent development would be remiss if it overlooked the dramatic improvement of Marques Bolden.
As recently as this summer, people seemed resigned to his lack of development.
It was never very fair.
Bolden has dealt with injuries and a bevy of great players. He could have fled, like Chase Jeter, who is finishing up at Arizona, and he considered it. But he stuck it out and he’s emerged as an ideal compliment to Duke’s athletic core.
He’s running the floor very well now and hustling after loose balls. He’s playing inside like a center, which is not something all big men do anymore, and on defense he’s a huge pain in the butt. His rebounding has really improved and he’s starting to become an effective scorer.
He’s making a huge difference for Duke.
The guy who may be making the biggest move though is Reddish.
Since his Florida State heroics, Reddish has scored 9, 15, 7, 13, 16 and 24 (he had 23 against FSU and missed the Syracuse game with illness).
The 9-point game came against Virginia, which is to an extent understandable. They do that to lots of people. The seven-pointer came against Georgia Tech and the Yellow Jackets are a solid defensive team.
His shooting could still improve although his free throw shooting has been superb. In the last six games he’s shot 20-22 from the line.
The most important thing is that he’s been visibly more confident.
There was a stretch where he clearly was playing with a lack of confidence and making foolish, careless or, perhaps, frightened turnovers.
That’s probably the wrong word but he made turnovers because he hesitated then acted.
Since he had four against Virginia, Reddish has had 3, 2, 1, 1, 2 and 1.
He’s making a huge difference for Duke now, big enough that when Barrett got into foul trouble, it wasn’t that big of a concern. Who made the big play at the half?
Who made the three that changed the momentum quickly in the second half?
He’s turned into a ballhawk on defense too. He had five steals against Georgia Tech and he puts a lot of pressure on ball handlers. Jones is the best at this by far, perhaps the best in college right now, but Reddish is solid too and he’s 6-9.
There are still concerns. Duke got just four points from the bench, all from Alex O’ Connell. It would be nice to get Jack White out of his slump and there’s no reason why Javin DeLaurier can’t get a few stick-backs.
Even with that, Duke’s starters keep improving. And that’s pretty scary for opponents because they’re already pretty damn good.
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