Entering the game against Georgia Southern there were many questions to be answered as to how this Duke team would respond. The news that Senior forward Amile Jefferson would be out for an indeterminate amount out time was a huge blow to a team already rife with vulnerabilities. Jefferson was a double-double machine and Dukes most consistent big man.
Duke would change it’s lineup against Georgia Southern to account for Jefferson’s absence, they did so by starting Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Marshall Plumlee and Brandon Ingram. Duke would also seek to increase the minutes for freshman Chase Jeter who has at times has looked erratic in the paint but will need to be an integral part of what Duke does going forward.
Duke struggled to defend the drive against Georgia Southern and their drive and kick out passes in the first half lead to open 3 point shots. Most of the first half the Eagles hung close with Duke by shooting 40% from beyond the arc and nearly drawing even with Duke in points in the paint. Dude did manage to pull away late in the first getting to the line and going 10-14 and ending the half with a 13 point lead.
Duke got a strong rebounding effort from Brandon Ingram who slid into the 4 spot for the Devils and delivered his first double-double, pulling down 14 rebounds and scoring 26 points to lead Duke in both categories. Ingram delivered several plays on the offensive end that left everyone speechless but also delivered on the defensive ends where he grabbed 6 of his 14 boards and also had 2 blocks and a steal.
Matt Jones presence was huge for Duke, Hones scored 16 but was much better with the ball in his hands delivering 4 assists and no turnovers. Grayson Allen also gave Duke several head-scratching plays on his way to 18 points and 5 assists.
The most important contributor as Duke wades through the rest of its schedule, in my opinion, was that of point guard Derryck Thornton who showed a lot of poise on both ends of the floor for Duke. Thornton went 5-8 from the floor and 3-3 from beyond the arc including a set play 3 point bomb to end the half that drew a high-five from Coach K. Thornton delivered, most importantly, 4 assists in the game and pulled down 4 rebounds. Thornton played 27 minutes in the game and looked like “the” Duke point guard.
Duke would eventually switch to a 2-3 zone in the second half which had a little success but they were still vulnerable at the rim. It will be interesting to see going forward if they elect to go more with zone with the limited number of bodies to use. Duke won the game 99-65 but clearly have a ways to go in terms of defense.
In terms of success from here on out, a lot will depend on Duke being able to get production from Chase Jeter, steal minutes with Sean Obi, and using Derryck Thornton to push the pace and set up his teammates – his best attribute as a point guard.
This game like the ones that will come after could be a matter of off-sets. Meaning that Duke did not turn the Eagles over, so they needed to have an advantage at the free throw line. Another off-set was 3 point shooting, Duke and Georgia Southern drew even, so Duke needed to win the rebounding battle to ensure a positive advantage in second chance points. That may be the numbers game going forward and definitely something to watch.