Defensive Prowess Sustains Duke

Without Kyrie Irving leading the charge, Duke is a very different team on the offensive end of the floor. The talent to score is there, but the consistency is sometimes lacking. In those cases, the Blue Devils can lean on their defense.

The Blue Devils are talented enough to be less-than-smooth offensively and still rack up 83 points as they did in dispatching struggling Wake Forest.

Yet it was one of Duke's constants that made a bigger imprint on its latest game. The Blue Devils held things together with defense until their offense came around.

While some teams might turn to offensive weapons to ignite something, the Blue Devils use defense as their standby. And it won't always come with highlight-level moments because Duke produced only three blocked shots against Wake Forest.

But steady defense has its payoffs. That will be important Thursday night against visiting Boston College. The Eagles have been one of the highest-scoring teams in the ACC in the early portion of conference play.

Duke missed numerous shots that it might normally make early in the Wake Forest game. But the ability to play through that is a trait that could serve the Blue Devils well because there will be opponents who can bottle up Duke's offense.

--Duke started the season with an 18-1 record for the fourth time in a six-season span. The latest version has included back-to-back in-state road victories after defeating North Carolina State and Wake Forest within a four-day stretch.

--The Blue Devils benefitted from 17 Wake Forest turnovers and were charged with only nine giveaways in the game. It marked the first time in six ACC games this season that Duke had fewer turnovers than its opponent. In the only previous league game when the turnovers were even, Duke lost to Florida State. So in games in which Duke has committed more turnovers than its ACC opponents, the Blue Devils are 4-0.

BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- The number of turnovers committed by Duke in its win at Wake Forest. It marked the sixth time this season the Blue Devils held their turnover count to less than double figures.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We didn't want to give them any life, which we did, but we had guys making plays and we were able to finally take it away from them." -- G Nolan Smith on the game against heavy underdog Wake Forest. By winning 83-59, Duke snapped a two-game road losing streak in the series and improved to 10-10 all-time at Joel Coliseum against Wake Forest.



--vs. Boston College, Jan. 27
KEY MATCHUPS: Duke will want to maintain a brisk pace whereas Boston College might be inclined to try to reduce the number of possessions. So this puts the onus on Duke's backcourt to use its quickness and its ability to push the basketball up the court. The Blue Devils will have to be physical on the interior against a team that won't likely shy away. This will be Duke's only home game in a five-game stretch.

--at St. John's, Jan. 30
KEY MATCHUPS: Duke should have the advantage on the interior and so the Blue Devils will want to exploit it, especially at the defensive end. St. John's doesn't have the experience Duke possesses, so the Blue Devils could string together some scoring bursts if they're playing at an efficient level. This is Duke's final non-league road game.

FUTURES MARKET: The increased use of freshman G Tyler Thornton might be a temporary thing for the Blue Devils, but he offers a change-up for opponents. He's dialed in as a defensive specialist, but his 22 minutes against Wake Forest indicate the willingness to use him for more than spot duty. He has made occasional offensive contributions, but if he's only a marginal threat at the offensive end that might compromise the team's flexibility on offense. Thornton took only one shot from the field against Wake Forest, though his two assists without a turnover were a sign of efficiency.

--Senior G Nolan Smith dealt with a minor knee ailment and that might have affected his shooting. He made only 6 of 22 shots from the field at Wake Forest on Jan. 22. But it didn't impact his ability to take shots because his 22 attempts matched his career high set earlier in the season against Alabama-Birmingham.

--Sophomore Mason Plumlee is averaging 11 rebounds per game in six conference games entering the week after his fourth consecutive double-figure rebounding performance Jan. 22 at Wake Forest. And for good measure, he has an eight-game streak with at least one blocked shot.

--Sophomore F Ryan Kelly smashed his personal-best scoring mark by scoring 20 points at Wake Forest on Jan. 22. It marked only his fourth double-digit scoring game in his career. His previous best output was 13 points against Elon. Kelly is 10-for-10 from the field in the last two games combined.

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