From the stands: Blue-White Scrimmages

The 2014-2015 season tipped off with the annual Blue-White scrimmage as part of the Countdown to Craziness event on Saturday night. Here’s our take on the first public showcase of the year.

RECAP



Countdown featured a pair of 12 minute intersquad scrimmages followed by the annual dunk contest. The star of the night was freshman center Jahlil Okafor who finished with 27 points (12-of-16 shooting) and eight rebounds in 24 minutes of action.

In years past the group wearing white in the first preseason scrimmage represents the team’s starting lineup when the season begins. If that tradition holds, Duke will start Tyus Jones, Matt Jones, Justise Winslow, Amile Jefferson, and Okafor when the exhibition season tips off on November 4th against Livingstone.

The “starters” ran away with the first game behind Okafor’s 4-of-4 start, opening up a 17-6 advantage before cruising to an easy 34-17 victory. Okafor would finish the game converting 6-of-8 shots from the field, showing off a variety of post moves as well as midrange jumpers.

With Okafor dominating on the inside, the perimeter attack of Jones and Jones helped create enough space to keep the Blue squad off balance, while also spearheading the defensive effort that held Blue to just 6-of-18 shooting.

Thus Jones finished with five assists in 12 minutes while Matt Jones added 10 points and knocked down both of his perimeter attempts. The Blue team was led by Rasheed Sulaimon who finished with six points.

The teams were more evenly matched after “halftime” with Quinn Cook, Grayson Allen, Semi Ojeleye, Winslow and Okafor taking on Jones, Jones, Jefferson, Plumlee, and Sulaimon.

Building on his strong first half, Sulaimon was the star of the second game scoring 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field including three 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Okafor was just as tough after intermission scoring 15 points and six rebounds.

With Okafor and Sulaimon trading attacks, the teams were tied at 23 when Okafor converted 1-of-2 from the free throw line to give White a one point lead. Ojeleye would extend the lead to four on a three pointer from the top of the key, but Sulaimon reduced the lead back to one on the next possession by answering with a three pointer of his own.

White missed on the following possession, but Okafor fought for the rebound and converted to make it 29-26 with less than 15 seconds remaining. Thus Jones would find Sulaimon for an open three pointer on the next possesion, but the shot rimmed out and fell into the hands of Winslow who was fouled. The freshman hit one of two free throws to leave the final score at 30-26.

TOP PLAYERS



Jahlil Okafor - Easily the best player on the floor, showing off a plethora of post moves, and then a jump shot out to 15 feet, there was nobody on the court to guard him. He will be Duke’s primary offensive option this season and for good reason. He also showed the ability to bother shots on defense and run the floor.

Matt Jones - The sophomore seems much more comfortable running alongside Tyus Jones and Okafor, which is understandable. His two three pointers were straight out of the 2001 Nate James playbook and were created by teams collapsing on the big man. If Jones can regain the form that earned him the reputation of a knockdown shooter coming out of high school, he’ll continue to have a place in the top of the rotation.

Rasheed Sulaimon - The junior from Houston seemed to be the wing guard option on the roster. He scored off the bounce and finished at the rim while also hitting from the perimeter. Much like a season ago, he seemed comfortable with the ball in his hands on offense, creating and dishing to his teammates. Defensively, Sulaimon consistently gave up his body and dove on the floor for loose balls.

Tyus Jones - The freshman point guard didn’t score in bunches, but handed out six assists and ran his team quickly and decisively. He had a couple of nifty passes which exhibited his incredible court vision, and even demonstrated a much better than anticipated defensive ability, forcing a five second call on Cook.

Justise Winslow - The powerfully built wing did a little bit of everything on the night. He scored near the rim and out to near the perimeter off a curl or two; rebounded; defended; and even handled the ball on occasion. Behind Okafor, Winslow may be the most unique player on the roster as there’s really no replacement for him. Coach K calls him “a winner” in the way he does whatever the team asks, which is why he’s going to be a staple in the starting lineup.




NOTEBOOK



- Duke welcomed three five star players to Countdown to Craziness as Harry Giles, Dennis Smith, Jr., and Tyus Battle were visiting unofficially. Each player received a “[Insert Name]…come to Duke” chant from the Crazies at various times.

- Smith in particular seemed quite taken with the event and spent a great amount of time sitting with Coach K at the end of the Duke bench.

- Marshall Plumlee won the annual dunk contest over Grayson Allen after Allen was unable to convert his final attempt.

- Semi Ojeleye was formally honored with the off-season Iron Belt which is given to the team’s strongest player. It’s a good bet the sophomore from Kansas will hold onto that honor for the next few years.

- The team showcased what seems to be an improved defensive ability. The aggressive man-to-man scheme isn’t new, but the improved execution was…and the team benefitted heavily from having big men behind the guards.

- Free throw shooting was so-so. With players like Winslow, Sulaimon, Jones, Jones, Allen, and others attacking the basket as much as they do, the Blue Devils need to be converting a bit better from the charity stripe.

- Coach K said after the game the White team was the current group of starters at this point noting that Matt Jones “understands himself” better than he did a season ago.

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