Well, after an exam break a rather rusty Duke beat a 6-6 Gardner Webb team 85-66. Jabari Parker led Duke’s scoring with 21. Quinn Cook had a good game with 4 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals and 16 points. Andre Dawkins was hot again with 18 points in 22 minutes. And Amile Jefferson upped his stock a bit with 10 rebounds in only 12 minutes. Rodney Hood scored 15 points but was 5-13 in field goals and only 1-7 from 3-point land.
I said in a recent article that if Duke intends to defeat UNC and teams like them, they must excel in at least three areas. They must knock down a majority of their 3-pointers, they must win the rebounding war, and they must shut down scoring in the paint. Hood’s 1 out of 7 3-pointers will not wash. At times UNC has shown a definite weakness in free throw percentages but at others they’ve done better.
Duke’s 20-28 free throws is okay but not good enough if they want to outshoot a UNC. In rebounding, Duke did okay but they allowed a rather lightweight 6’5” Runnin’ Bulldog named Jerome Hill pull down 9 rebounds. And the worst stat is that Gardner Webb scored 35 points in the paint. If the Devils can’t shut this team out, one wonders how they’ll be able to shut out a UNC or other teams that live or die in the paint.
For some reason, this team has also struggled at times finishing well. Against an average team and with a large lead, Duke should have been calmly dominating in the final minutes. Duke did score a little in the final six minutes but just look at this list from the final 6:15 of the game: Dawkins turnover, foul on Sulaimon, foul on Dawkins, Parker misses jumper, Thornton misses free throw, Hood turnover, Hood misses jumper, Thornton misses jumper, Jones misses 2 free throws, Jones misses another free throw, Plumlee turnover, Ojeleye turnover, Cook misses free throw. Good grief.
But, guys, this is not how highly ranked teams win and stay competitive with the leaders. The game against UCLA may be a shootout between two teams that can be explosive offensively. But the final score may well be determined on the defensive end and an ability to close well.