Court Vision: No. 4 Duke crushes No. 10 Notre Dame
DURHAM, N.C. — No. 4 Duke looked every bit the part of a dominant team as it throttled No. 10 Notre Dame 90-60 on Saturday in a revenge game that, believe it or not, did not even feel that close.
Duke dominated from the opening tip until the final horn, and while Notre Dame certainly didn't play its best game, Duke showed what it is capable of when it is on and humming at both ends of the floor.
1. Cameron felt like Cameron again
When Duke (20-3, 7-3 ACC) is really good, even other really good opponents can come into Cameron Indoor and fall apart. Duke has a lot to do with that, of course, and the Blue Devils did in this game, putting on an offense showcase for the ages with an 81 percent shooting performance in the first half, including 7 of 8 from 3-point range.
On the flip side, nothing goes right for opponents, either. Notre Dame's Jerian Grant was upset with the officials, his teammates, himself — and that's an ACC Player of the Year candidate for a top-10 team.
Even when Notre Dame (21-4, 9-3 ACC) could get good looks once the Duke barrage started, the Cameron Crazies — packed into the student section like sardines — jumped up and down, screamed and shouted and otherwise made life oppressively hellacious for the Irish.
It hadn't been like that this year for Duke yet. Notre Dame was the best opponent Duke had faced at home by over 40 spots (ahead of Miami, which Duke lost to on its home court). Duke had, at times, struggled to put away lesser opponents, and the atmosphere had been a bit ... well, dull. Like against Georgia Tech on Wednesday night as Duke mucked its way to a win.
"I don't think we played well in Cameron this year and it was time for us to really have a signature home game this year," senior guard Quinn Cook said. "I think that was our best one yet. We've got to keep it rolling."
All of the Duke players spoke after the game of the need and hunger they felt to put a good performance together at home. So many opponents that had no business hanging with Duke had come into Cameron and hung with the Blue Devils, unafraid of what is normally an incredibly fearsome place.
"Cameron is an unbelievable place. It's our place. Today we made Cameron work," junior forward Amile Jefferson said. "We definitely knew we could play better at home. We've been really good on the road this year in tough environments. We just wanted to translate to when we play home for our fans. Not that we played bad here, but today it was something special. We made it that way."
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski often credits the raucous environment at Cameron and the fans as a de facto sixth man, and when it and his team are working in concert, it can be a beautiful symphony.
"The crowd was — it was not a good crowd against Georgia Tech. Tonight, it was an incredible crowd. It was a Cameron crowd," Krzyzewski said.
Freshman point guard Tyus Jones had visited Duke plenty of times before he arrived on campus as a student. And for some big games. But this — this was something else.
"It's better, just because you're a part of it," Jones said. "You're out there on the court trying to make plays and playing for one another. It's — I haven't experienced anything like that in Cameron before."
Duke has been extraordinary home or away against big-time opponents, but even in big-time road wins over really good teams, they haven't looked like this.
"We have not executed that way in a long time on both ends of the court. That was...it was almost ... perfect," Krzyzewski said, searching for the words. "It was so good. It was just so good."
2. Duke put on an offensive show, but it was what Duke did defensively that was even more impressive
Notre Dame has been in the top two nationally in Ken Pomeroy's offensive efficiency rankings most of the season. The Irish are a matchup nightmare with a smaller lineup and move the ball beautifully, also executing ball screens to perfection, particularly to get Grant room to drive and pitch to a wide-open teammate for a 3-pointer or take a shot himself.
Duke has had its ups and downs this year defensively, but the Blue Devils were all up in this game. In the first half, they held Notre Dame to 36.4 percent shooting and just 3 of 12 from inside the arc; Notre Dame was shooting nearly 60 percent from two-point range entering the game.
It wasn't just the numbers, because those can sometimes lie. It wasn't like Notre Dame was missing a ton of open shots. They weren't getting many open shots.
"I thought their ball pressure harassed us, bothered us. They never really let Jerian Grant or any of us get into any kind of rhythm," Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. "They were so good on the ball screen, and that's so important to us. I thought (Jahlil) Okafor was better on the ball screen than I've ever seen him all season. I know that's a work in progress.
"We thought we could — we got a little more of that in South Bend. We couldn't get any of it today with Jerian."
That was the biggest thing the Duke players identified as well, an ability for the bigs to help the guards defend those deadly Notre Dame ball screens. Notre Dame picked Duke apart with that in South Bend, so Brey was being kind when he said they got "a little more" of that in the first matchup.
"It was just a lot of talking. We started switching a lot of the ball screens, and our guards did a great job of staying into their man. If they could fight through the screen, they were fighting through it and the bigs didn't have to do anything," Jefferson said. "When they didn't, our bigs did a great job of protecting the paint in that first half ... and then our guards were unbelievable on the ball, keeping the ball in front of them, putting pressure on them, making every pass an adventure."
Brey specified Okafor's improvement, and Okafor has been hearing some about how his defense isn't all that great. It was in this game, both on ball screens and down low.
"He was talking, he was down. He waited until I got back in front of him and he was talking the whole time," Cook said of Okafor on ball screens. "He was energetic the whole game and it helped on the ball screens. When he's like that, we're a great, great team."
Cook's defense on Grant in particular was fantastic. He was in Grant's hip pocket the entire time, and he clearly frustrated Grant early and often as he struggled to get free.
Grant dominated the first meeting with Duke with 23 points and 12 assists. He finished this game with seven points and four assists.
"He kicked my butt the first game so it's definitely a pride thing. I didn't do it by myself. It was my whole team talking to me. If I got knocked off, somebody helped me, and the bigs did a tremendous job of just letting me know what ball screens were coming," Cook said. "He's definitely one of the best players in the country. For us to play a defensive game like that on him is a good thing. But he's still one of the best."
Cook didn't want to take too much credit, and that kind of unselfishness was evident on both ends of the court.
That was one reason Krzyzewski implemented a zone in the first place — he wanted his team to play team defense, instead of be alone on an island, isolated in space against someone and trying to make a play. He thought a zone would make them feel more together.
But in this game, Duke's man-to-man was as good — or better — as it has been all season.
"I thought we played great man-to-man today, because we talked. We'll play better defense if we talk. The word that we try to use is 'together'. Just be together. The only way you can be together is if you talk," Krzyzewski said.
It's easy to play defense, some might say, when you're hitting over 80 percent of your shots.
For Krzyzewski, he thinks it worked the other way around.
"I really think our defense helped our offense today," Krzyzewski said. "We're playing so well, I look up and there's 7-something left and there's a timeout. Our guys are smiling. It's a big lead. I'm like, 'Look, there's 27 minutes left in this game. What we just did in 13 minutes can be done against us.'
"Not to throw a wet blanket on the party here, but it's a dose of reality that these things happen. I've seen them happen to me and sometimes we've had it happen where we did it to another team. But you still have to control the team. I thought our guys showed a lot of maturity in that regard."
3. The Blue Devils got something from all eight of its rotation players, and that's big
Duke has eight scholarship players left now that Rasheed Sulaimon has been dismissed from the team and Semi Ojeleye transferred earlier. Now, it helps when all eight are McDonald's All-Americans, certainly. But that's all the Blue Devils have left, and they can't really afford to have an off night from any of them.
In this game, they got more than that.
In the first half, it was sophomore guard Matt Jones — the biggest beneficiary of Sulaimon's absence in terms of minutes — who was hitting everything in sight, scoring 15 of his career-high 17 points in the first half (including 3 of 4 from the outside) in just 14 first-half minutes off the bench.
Freshman Grayson Allen had played 17 minutes in the previous four games combined. He played 16 minutes against Notre Dame and had five points, his most since Nov. 26, including hitting his first 3-pointer since Dec. 31 and swatting away a shot in transition in an impressive play that's as athletic as you'll see.
"Those are things we know he can do. Those are things we've seen him do in practice. For him to knock down that 3 or for him to drive the lane, get fouled, get a big block, jut playing hungry, we need that," Jefferson said. "We need all our guys. We have eight guys and we need everybody to show up. Today, we did. We all played hungry. Everybody played together. It was great to see Grayson out there having fun."
Even with Sulaimon gone, it's hard for Allen to get a ton of time just because Duke's guards are usually all playing well. Cook was defending Grant, Tyus Jones was controlling the game on offense and Matt Jones couldn't miss.
But he proved with his second-half minutes especially that he can help the Blue Devils going forward.
"He's a guy that we haven't yet seen what he can do. The guys love it when he's in there. We'll see these last, what do we have, eight conference games. I think he can help us," Krzyzewski said. "He's a great kid. He's a very good talent, too. All eight of those guys have got to help us."
Okafor picked up his second foul early in the first half, and Marshall Plumlee had to come in for awhile too, even as Duke mostly went small to match the Irish. His 11 minutes were tied for his most in ACC play, and he had three rebounds, two points and a block.
But it was big to see all the freshmen playing well, too. Jones had 12 points, five rebounds, seven assists and no turnovers, while Winslow ran the court like a gazelle and finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
It was Okafor, though, who was perhaps the most impressive, considering the circumstances. He was as active on defense as he's ever been, as visibly emotional (in a positive way) as he's been and he came back in the game even with two fouls and ended up with a double-double.
"We would've put him in with two in the first half, but we kept increasing the lead. But I've played my guys with two fouls in the first half ... just because when we get to tournaments ... you're not going to win with your best player on the bench," Krzyzewski said of the freshman playing through the foul trouble. "So he's got to learn to do that."
26-4: That was the run Duke went on over a span of 7:19 in the first half, all while Okafor was on the bench with two fouls. The total run was 43-7 from the 18:18 mark of the first until the 4:36 mark.
16: That's what Notre Dame's Big 3 -- Grant, Pat Connaughton and Zach Auguste — totaled against Duke: 6 of 19 shooting and 16 points. Their teammates combined for 44 points on 17 of 39 shooting, and it was clear Duke prioritized making those players a non-factor.
"I had to look at the stat sheet to make sure that only counted as one loss, because that was a thorough beating." -- Brey
"I've seen Grayson do so many athletic things that — it was a nice block, but it didn't surprise me. It got me hype. The things Grayson can do on the basketball court is crazy. (Winslow is asked: Does he block your shot?) Oh yeah, definitely." — Justise Winslow