In a 95-91 loss to Notre Dame it was the same old story for a young, thin and tired Duke team. Duke didn’t have much issue putting points on the board but as we all know if you can’t get stops you can’t win. Duke defensively was not at it’s best and with a team that has a mantra of “we can’t get into foul trouble” it’s hard to imagine the situation getting much better.
Regardless of how well Duke shot the ball (51.8%) they gave up 50% shooting, something that just won’t do for a Coach K team. Shots fall and don’t fall but defense is something that always should be a constant and Duke played very little of it, and the defense they played was ineffective. Duke gave up the middle of the lane consistently in this game and was crushed in points in the paint 50-26 and even though the rebounding edge was only 5 in Notre Dames favor the 2nd chance points were a killer for Duke with an 18 to 4 deficit.
There were bright spots in this game notably the play of freshman Luke Kennard who scored a career high 30 points and paired it with 8 rebounds. Kennard took the reigns of the offense when fellow freshman Brandon Ingram had to sit with foul trouble for the second straight game. Ingram despite sitting for a spell in the second half still managed to score 25 points for the Devils.
Duke was never out of the game which is a good sign going forward but there are clear deficiencies that not even a HOF coach may have the answers for. You cannot age a team prematurely, and you can’t expect players to defy their nature. Duke will need to expect better play from its guards in other areas of the game, most notably rebounding. Duke also missed critical free throws down the stretch including the front end of a one and one from Marshall Plumlee and an empty trip from Matt Jones as well – in a game where points are at a premium and the margin for error as thin as it is Duke can ill-afford to leave any points at the line.
The good news is that each game is a snapshot. Yes Duke has dropped 2 in a row, and is as vulnerable as they have been in a number of years but in that there is opportunity. Luke Kennard cashed in his and its time for others to do the same. Duke failed to rise to the level of fervor that Clemson had in that loss and this game saw Duke not get after rebounds or truly value the ball as they should. Hopefully like last year we can look to a two game losing streak as the point when things started to turn around.
Duke needs to get more rebounding from the guard position for sure but Marshall Plumlee needs to find a way to be more consistent. He has had big games against good competition but has also had quizzical stretches where he cannot seem to make layups or even hold on to the ball. His lack of a proper boxout against Zach Auguste was one of the plays Duke can look at as a missed opportunity. While 70% is normally a good percentage for a team to shoot at the free-throw line, Duke if it wants to be effective needs to shoot much better. Duke will still have to try to find a way to manufacture some depth but in these close games its going to hard to get time for Chase Jeter and Sean Obi.