Court Vision: No. 2 Duke opens ACC play with strong statement

Duke's talented freshman Jahlil Okafor set a new career high with 28 against Boston College. 

DURHAM, N.C. — No. 2 Duke (13-0, 1-0) made easy work of Boston College (7-5, 0-1) at home on Saturday afternoon by a final of 85-64 in the ACC opener for both teams. Duke continued to show the multiple ways it can win basketball games, and how maybe head coach Mike Krzyzewski is right when he says this team isn’t playing nearly as well as it can — yet. Which is a scary thought.

1. Jahlil Okafor continues to be really good, all while adjusting to basketball on this level.

Well, sort of — if adjusting means averaging 26.3 points and 8.0 rebounds over the last three games, all while shooting 30-of-39 from the field (76.9 percent).

The adjustment, it seems, is coming in dealing with how different teams defend him differently. Some have single-covered him. Some have double — even triple — teamed him. Some try some sort of combination of all kinds of things.

Boston College is one of the rare teams that actually has a seven-footer in senior Dennis Clifford, and he actually did a decent job on Okafor when he was guarding him, at least making things more difficult than they would have been. But he played 17 minutes and fouled out.

Clifford being the wily vet that he is made things as difficult for Okafor as he could legally without doing anything too bad, with the exception of an Flagrant 1 elbow that was unintentional. But through it all, Okafor kept his cool.

"I think he was just really ready to play me and eager. He didn’t want me to score, so when I was trying to move block to block, he was doing a lot of holding and grabbing, things like that," Okafor said.

"It doesn’t affect me at all. It was just being patient, letting the game come to me, not try to force anything, kind of battle back with him and just being strong in the post."

Krzyzewski echoed that sentiment, because he knows people are going to try to intimidate the seemingly-unflappable freshman.

"He has a toughness, he just doesn’t — Jah is special in every way. I thought he handled everything today really well," Krzyzewski said. "But it won’t affect (him) where he’s knocked back, but he also isn’t going to go bonkers in retaliation or anything like that. He’s a special guy. He’s really got everything, including being a great teammate and a great demeanor."

2. Justise Winslow remains the biggest x-factor for this team.

Yes, another of Duke’s freshmen who seems too big for his age, Duke’s talented wing might have had his best game in a Duke uniform to date, scoring 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (1-of-2 from three), adding seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks, three fouls and just one turnover in 26 minutes.

At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, he’s more linebacker than wing, but he has the athleticism to play there with the speed and agility to boot — not to mention the power.

He had double figures in five straight games to start the season, then got a bit more quiet, averaging 10.6 in the next five. In the last two, though, he’s averaging 14.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 blocks in just 28.5 minutes. Oh, and he’s shooting 10-of-18 from the floor in that span, too.

"Really just have fun, try to live in the moment, just go out there and have fun with my brothers, compete and just give it everything I have because you never know, God forbid I get hurt or something like that, this could be my last game," Winslow said.

And that energy is what the Blue Devils need from him. Duke doesn’t need him to score a ton, though. Not really. It’s a luxury.

They need him using his game-changing and almost unfair athleticism to make plays, like a steal and a breakaway dunk or the swat of a shot on the interior. And he did that against Boston College.

"I just tried to play hard out there, compete and just give it my all. When I do that, I’m flying all over the court, getting teals, getting blocks, dunks, three-pointers, rebounds and setting good screens," Winslow said, naming like almost every good thing in basketball. "When you’re out there just having fun and competing, then your best is going to show."

3. Krzyzewski has — and will continue to — push this team beyond the boundaries of normalcy.

Duke said after a game against Elon earlier in December that this team can’t be "normal". It’s normal to let human nature creep in and play poorly after a long layoff or overlook an outmatched opponent.

As young as this team is, he also knows how good it can be. As long as it’s not normal. So he tries to eradicate any signs of that. He called a timeout quickly in the second half when Boston College strung together a few baskets.

"We were scoring, and it was like we, it was okay because we were going to score and they were going to score. It’s human nature," Krzyzewski said. "You’ve got to battle it. They’re not going to lie down and die for you. So we picked it up a little bit after that."

It has gotten to the point where he was upset enough to mention a few "run-outs" the Eagles got when Duke was up by 24 in the second half. "I’d have to look and see why that occured," Krzyzewski said. "It may have occured becuase we’re up by 24."

That’s not a good eough reason for Krzyzewksi. But at the same time, there’s a balance, and these kids — they are still kids, after all — somtimes seemed as if they were living under that burden of expectations instead of reveling in it.

A close-knit group off the court, they’ve rallied a lot more behind each other at any sign of passion or enthusiasm, chest-bumping and fiercely encouraging each other, and that seems to have gotten them going whenever a slow stretch hits.

"We have a lot of fun off the court and even on the court, we’re having a lot of fun. You just build a bond like there, it really makes you want to go out there on the floor and fight for your brothers," Okafor said.

"We’re a very tight group off the court and I think when we’re out there having fun, that’s when we’re playing at our best. So just try to make the extra pass, get everybody involved and just get Cameron rocking," Winslow said.

It was plenty of times, particularly when Duke forced a shot-clock violation, where Cameron and the players were practically frothing at the mouth with excitement.

And so they’d rather be out there chest-bumping and screaming than methodically, emotionlessly going about their business.

"Basketball is fun, a fun game and we all love playing it, otherwise we wouldn’t be here," Duke point guard Tyus Jones said. "So you’ve definitely got to make sure you’re having fun but at the same time, it’s a business. We find the happy medium."

Marshall Plumlee’s entire stat line — 11 minutes, 3 points, six rebounds, four blocks. If he’s going to be an effective backup for Okafor when and if he gets into foul trouble, he has to give Duke a boost, and he did just that today.

14-of-17 — That was Jahlil Okafor’s free-throw line number, as he made 14-of-17 from the foul line (82.3 percent). That brought him up from about 50 percent on the season to nearly 61 percent, and that will help dissuade teams from just fouling him.