After thinking more on the game here are a few more thoughts I had on last night…
Thornton’s Unsung Attributes
Duke hasn’t been the best defensive team this year, but when things have counted they have come through more often than not and Derryck Thornton’s defense on much stronger Joel Berry in the games last play may go down as maybe the most important play of the game. Thornton played impeccable defense on the sophomore guard and did it without fouling, holding his defensive position and forcing Berry into a tough shot. Also of note was the floor game Thornton notched in this one, most notably the absence of turnovers despite playing 39 minutes. His shot wasn’t on tonight but that’s ok, it didn’t have to be. Thornton may not have had huge numbers but that play signified this Duke effort. They bent but did not break.
Kennard Comes Through
All year-long Luke Kennard has been sort of feast or famine, which is undoubtedly normal for a freshman. What hasn’t changed for Kennard is his approach and his confidence. His points in Matt Jones’ stead was huge for Duke, his ability to seek out his shot, put pressure on the defense with his ability to drive the basketball coupled with his catch-and-shoot ability was a great fit for this game – with a premium on points and the fact that Duke had to take and make tougher shots that UNC – Kennard’s contribution should not be understated.
Roy’s Call & Missed Opportunities
The old adage of not letting the defense set up is great when you push the ball, but I’m not sure in this case it proved beneficial. Duke in the man-to-man adjusted quickly in transition, knew their assignments and reacted quickly but aiding Duke was UNC not pushing the ball up the floor particularly fast – there was a bit of hesitation, perhaps not being sure of whether to call a timeout or not – that worked out in Duke’s favor. With a timeout the pressure shifts, in my opinion, to the defense, set plays are practiced, and perfected and Duke would have to do a lot more thinking – while when you go straight from the rebound I think the defense, especially in man to man and with UNC not really running hard – shifts to the offense – the clock in your head, not really knowing where to go with the ball – I think all of this was a factor.
I also think for UNC not really taking the opportunity to foul out Marshall Plumlee was a huge factor and mistake. When your best post guy is dominating the game and knowing Duke’s lone effective big man has 4 fouls, it seems a no-brainer that you want to pound the ball inside, especially with Duke losing a player in Matt Jones who went down with an injury in the first half. Shot selection was definitely a factor down the stretch, UNC more or less bailed Duke out in several instances. There was no answer for Brice Johnson in Dukes huddle and his lack of looks and touches late in the second half is puzzling.
There should have been no answer for Carolina’s depth but Duke, even without subbing for the final 10:51 of the game, never seemed as though they had tired legs. There is something to be said for losing your top billing as a young team to shake you from being the hunted to the hunter. Some teams thrive as one or the other, this team so far is hungry and seeking prey.