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As Virginia Tech Looms In Sweet Sixteen, Duke Focuses On Defense

Stopping the Hokies defensively is probably a better idea than trying to out shoot them.

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UCF v Duke
COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA - MARCH 24: Cam Reddish #2 and RJ Barrett #5 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrate after defeating the UCF Knights in the second round game of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Colonial Life Arena on March 24, 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Cam Reddish told the media Tuesday that Duke “had a nice little practice today.”

The focus was on defense.

It’s good that Duke had a nice practice and it’s even better that they focused on defense; there was some slippage last week.

But best of all is the fact that Duke is still practicing at all. That means their season is still on-going.

What does Duke have to do in able for us to have this conversation a week from now?

Duke has already played Virginia Tech once this season and it did not end well. The Blue Devils were without Zion Williamson but the Hokies were missing their best player, guard Justin Robinson.

Both are back for the rematch, only the third time Duke has played an ACC rival in the NCAAs. Duke won the first two, Maryland in 2001 and Syracuse last year.

“Playing together on both sides of the ball, communicating. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”

That’s Reddish’s recipe for success against Virginia Tech.

Pretty generic. But likely accurate.

Tre Jones also talked to the media Tuesday and he says it will have to start with defense, especially against Robinson.

“We’ll just try to make the game difficult for him. I’ll still be pressuring the ball. We won’t change our defense. We’ll continue to pressure the ball and pressure off the ball.”

Duke started four freshmen last week and both Reddish and Jones says Duke learned some lessons.

One is to come out sharper. Duke fell behind North Dakota State 12-5 and trailed Central Florida 17-11.

That’s not a sustainable trend.

“Obviously, we have a little more confidence, getting the jitters out of the way. We want to come out with fire and energy. We don’t want any more games to come down to the last play. You can’t take anything for granted. Everybody is out there playing for their lives. Coming out, playing super hard from the start. If we do that, we’ll get in the flow sooner.”

Jones agrees.

“We have to be able to learn from that [UCF] game not to dig ourselves a hole, not to come out slow. Just having energy coming into the game. We’re prepared for the teams that we’re playing. But a lot of us are thinking about what we need to do personally rather than as a team so we get into ourselves instead of what we need to do as a team. Once we start talking, we get more energy.”

Jones is aware of the chatter concerning his pedestrian three-point shooting but says the plan remains the same.

“I don’t think we’ll be playing any more 7-6 guys. But if teams are going to play me like that, I’ll continue to take that shot. My coaches believe in me, my teammates believe in me, I believe in myself.”

Still, Jones says his primary offensive responsibility remains facilitator.

“It changes from game to game, depending on what we need.. But as a point guard, my original job is to get people in their places and try to get them in the right spot and read the defense and see what we’ll be able to do.”

Reddish is coming off a solid game, including a three-pointer that may have saved Duke’s season.

He says he’s still adjusting to playing more without the ball.

”It’s still an on-going process. There are always to improve.”

Reddish says he’s shooting better now than ever.

That big three-pointer?

“Making sure we were staying in focus. It was a long delay. Just staying ready.”

Reddish adds that his foul trouble is a result of rushing and not trusting his teammates.

Jones, Williamson and R.J. Barrett all played 40 minutes against Central Florida and Duke didn’t get much from its bench. A healthy Jack White would help with the bench but Duke isn’t saying anything about White right now.

So, Jones says he and his teammates can’t worry about pacing themselves.

“Four more games isn’t guaranteed. Whatever is needed for those 40 minutes, is what we’re going to give. If we need 40 minutes, we’ll put our bodies on the line for 40 minutes.”

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