Tuesday night had all the makings of a trap game. I would counter that by saying trap games are generally played against lesser opponents and if anyone was paying attention – Ohio State is a talented team. They’ve been battle tested against ranked opponents and been on the wrong side of a couple of games that could have gone either way. Certainly the Blue Devils should have won this game but instead were overtaken 71-66 by a scrappy Ohio State team on their home floor. The makings were there from the beginning. Duke did not play well on the offensive side of the basketball and even with a 13 point lead at the half something still felt amiss. Perhaps it was the quick whistle that landed several Blue Devil players in foul trouble. Perhaps it was the lack of offensive flow, execution coupled with bad shot selection. Perhaps it was all of the above or did one perpetuate the other but with Ohio State missing 7 free throws in the first half the Duke lead really felt…temporary.
By the end of the first half buzzer Duke had 4 players in foul difficulties and that would only serve as a portent of things to come. The second half saw Duke’s lead slowly evaporate as offensive series after offensive series went no where. The Blue Devils struggled to score or even get off good shots. It’s certainly very easy to put it all on the referees but Duke played tired, less aggressive and settled offensively. It was easily the worst half of basketball the Blue Devils have played thus far and the numbers bear that out. Duke only put 23 points on the board and only made 7-31 shots -22.6%. The committed more fouls (12) than they made shots (7). Wendell Moore Jr. led the Blue Devils in scoring with 17 points, going 7-15 from the floor with 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Freshman Paolo Banchero who was bottled up for most of the game and playing with foul difficulties scored 14 points but only shot 4-14. Duke lost reserve forward Theo John to fouls and Mark Williams, Paolo Banchero and Wendell Moore were all saddled with 4 fouls for important stretches of the second half.
The Blue Devils have played 8 games in 22 days and it showed in how they played and how sluggish they were on both ends be it moving their feet defensively or front rimming a lot of shots. Coach K remarked that the aggressive scheduling was intentional and that he realized that, they were at the end of an “energy cycle”. To put it succinctly, Duke scheduled a lot of games in a short period of time without a lot of rest in between. There are plusses and minuses to it – with a young team there is the chance that games like Kentucky and Gonzaga are going to leave you physically vulnerable and you end that cycle losing a game you might have otherwise won with more rest. The plus is very simple:
- It gives you not only a teaching point but a point of reference going forward.
- You see how your team not only reacts but you can point to specific instances where fatigue affected result.
- It prepares you for the rigors of a gauntlet of ACC games coming soon.
The Blue Devils will have 2 weeks before they are back on the court to figure it out.