It was clear Duke did not have it’s best stuff against a Utah team that brought their A game and Duke still had a chance to pull out the win in the end. Duke was without it’s best big man Amile Jefferson and its leading scorer was a game time decision nursing a flu. The odds were indeed stacked against this team and yet they found a way to make it a one possession game in overtime.
Duke started a lineup that included guard Derryck Thornton, Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Marshall Plumlee and Brandon Ingram. No on in that starting lineup with the exception of Plumlee, who went 1 for 1, shot over 37% in the game. Duke, for the game, shot under 30%. Duke had no answer for forwards Jakob Poeltl and Kyle Kuzma who torched the Devils for 19 and 21 respectively. Poeltl also added 14 rebounds. Without senior forward Amile Jefferson Duke was dominated in points in the paint 48-26. Duke managed to stay close in this game with an edge in turnovers (19-5) and an edge in points off those turnovers of 20 to 5.
Duke was led in scoring from Luke Kennard who went 5-9 from the field, 12-13 from the free throw line for 24 points. Kennard also pulled down 8 rebounds for the devils. Duke also got double figure scoring from Matt Jones who had 18, and Brandon Ingram who scored 15 unfortunately neither shot well. Ingram missed a lay-up that would have tied the game in overtime in the waning seconds.
There are plenty of things Duke could have done to help themselves in this game. Duke missed opportunity after opportunity at the rim in this game and its most consistent scoring threat was held to 7 points on 3 of 18 shooting. Defensively Duke was also not very good in the first half. Utah shot a healthy 52% in the first half. Duke made a defensive stand in the second half and held the Utes to 34.5% but in the subsequent overtime Duke allowed 68% shooting by Utah. The first half also saw Duke shoot horribly from the free throw like at 54.5%. For a team with very little margin for error leaving points on the floor is a death knell.
One plus is that Duke did not give up, Duke played tough down the stretch and behind a huge second half effort from Luke Kennard, Duke was in a game statistically dominated by Utah. It’s not unheard of for a team with the youth that Duke is using to fold up shop and except a loss, Duke did not do that. Duke didn’t win but they did show that they do have fight. It may not be a win but at a time when the things couldn’t get too much worse for Duke who:
1. Lost its best low-post scorer and rebounder
2. Most prolific offensive player weakened by the flu
3. very short bench
Despite this Duke took Utah’s best punch and nearly counterpunched their way to a win.
Duke is in a unique position going forward unfortunately. Not only is Duke very thin inside, but very youthful in areas of importance. Chase Jeter has gotten a bad wrap from Duke fans expecting to see Jahlil part 2 from him. Jeter is 18 years old and has, just like every other freshman big man (see Skal), has to adjust to the physicality of the college game. There will be a period of adjustment and things will not get any easier for this team.