Duke fresh­men starters healthy, but a bit rusty, in win

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY STEVE WISE­MAN swise­[email protected]­sob­server.com

Duke re­united its fab­u­lous four fresh­men starters for the first time in two weeks Satur­day.

Plug-and-play for the No. 2ranked Blue Devils, right? Not quite.

“When you are apart for three weeks or a three games, it’s not like you just come back to­gether,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It takes a lit­tle bit.”

When Satur­day’s game with Geor­gia Tech tipped off, it was the first time in two weeks Zion Wil­liamson, Tre Jones, Cam Red­dish and RJ Bar­rett were on the court to­gether for Duke.

As ex­pected, the Blue Devils beat Geor­gia Tech 66-53.

What wasn’t ex­pected was the strug­gle Duke (17-2 6-1 ACC) en­dured to get to that re­sult.

The Blue Devils scored their fewest points in a game this sea­son. They made just 2 of 21 3-point­ers, a frigid 9.5 per­cent.

Two min­utes into the sec­ond half, Geor­gia Tech (11-9, 3-4 ACC) held an eight-point lead.

All this de­spite the fact that Jones, Duke’s point guard, played for the first time since in­jur­ing his right shoul­der five min­utes into a 95-91 over­time loss to Syra­cuse on Jan. 14.

He missed Duke’s 72-70 win over Vir­ginia on Jan. 19 and a 79-64 win at Pitts­burgh last Tues­day night.

Red­dish missed the Syra­cuse game with flu-like symp­toms.

Wil­liamson missed the sec­ond half of Duke’s 80-78 win at Florida State on Jan. 12 af­ter be­ing poked in the left eye late in the first half.

Those four fresh­men were in the start­ing lineup for Duke’s first 14 games, go­ing 13-1. Over the last four prior to Satur­day, Krzyzewski had to mix and match to cover the per­son­nel losses.

Rather than re­turn to dom­i­nant ways against Geor­gia Tech, the re­stored Blue Devils stum­bled through the game’s first 22 min­utes.

“Coach (Krzyzewski) got on us and he told us that we re­ally needed to pick it up or else we were go­ing to lose the game,” said Bar­rett, who led Duke with 24 points and 11 re­bounds but also six turnovers.

Krzyzewski de­liv­ered a sim­i­lar half­time mes­sage. Yet, af­ter the Yel­low Jack­ets scored the first six points of the sec­ond half to lead 35-27, Krzyzewski thought his team was in a “trance” so he called a time­out to re­peat him­self.

“It was pretty sim­i­lar,” Red-

dish said. “I guess the first time he said he we didn’t be­lieve it. But once we got down eight, we looked at each other and knew we had to get go­ing.”

Nat­u­rally with a gifted de­fender like Jones back in the lineup, Duke turned up the de­fen­sive pres­sure to turn the game around. From 18:00 to 12:03, nearly six min­utes, the Yel­low Jack­ets made just one field goal.

Bar­rett and Wil­liamson (22 points) fi­nally found some space in­side against Geor­gia Tech’s zone de­fense to score at the rim.

Af­ter trail­ing by eight points with 18 min­utes to play, Duke dom­i­nated in such a mat­ter that it built an 18-point lead with 2:29 left be­fore win­ning by 13.

A team known for its lethal tran­si­tion of­fense, Duke won de­spite scor­ing just seven fast-break “We had tran­si­tion in the first half,” Krzyzewski said. “We didn’t score. You’ve got to score the bas­ket or score af­ter fouls or both. You can’t come up empty in tran­si­tion at the bas­ket. You can’t do that be­cause of how hard you worked to get there. We’ll show our guys. You ei­ther have to fin­ish or get fouled. I’m not say­ing we were fouled. We didn’t fin­ish.”

Duke’s coach­ing staff will use video re­view to show where the de­fi­cien­cies were in that area. They’ll also work on im­prov­ing 3-point shoot­ing. Duke’s dis­mal ef­fort on Satur­day re­duced its sea­son per­cent­age from be­hind the arc to 30.2 per­cent. That’s 326th in the coun­try.

With travel set for Sun­day in ad­vance of Mon­day’s 7 p.m. game at Notre Dame, there won’t be much time to fix these ar­eas.

But, even so, Duke fig­ures to play bet­ter against the Ir­ish. Notre Dame’s 11-9 over­all record, in­clud­ing 1-6 in the ACC, shows it isn’t as tal­ented as the Blue Devils.

But, more than that, it will be an­other game with Duke’s start­ing lineup to­gether and grow­ing com­fort­able again.

Duke be­came a dif­fer­ent de­fen­sive team with­out Jones, play­ing far more zone. On of­fense, Bar­rett be­came a key ball-han­dler.

Those days are over. Duke is at its best -- well, usu­ally at its best -- with all four of the fresh­men avail­able.

That wasn’t true on Satur­day. It fig­ures to be true from here on out.

CHUCK LIDDY [email protected]­sob­server.com

Duke for­ward RJ Bar­rett (5) dunks over the Yel­low Jack­ets dur­ing the Blue Devils’ 66-53 vic­tory in Durham on Satur­day. The Blue Devils fi­nally have their four fresh­men starters all healthy again, but the time apart left the team a bit rusty against Geor­gia Tech.

CHUCK LIDDY [email protected]­sob­server.com

Duke's Cam Red­dish (2), Zion Wil­liamson, cen­ter, and Tre Jones de­fend a pass from Geor­gia Tech guard Michael Devoe dur­ing the sec­ond half Satur­day.

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