From the stands: Duke v. Livingstone

The Blue Devils began the 2014-2015 exhibition season with an impressive performance against a clearly overmatched Livingstone squad, beating the Blue Bears by 57. Here’s how we saw it from the stands.

RECAP

There was no drama against Livingstone. And the game was over almost as soon as it started. Duke raced out to a 16-2 lead on their guests and finished the first half on a 25-2 spurt, leaving a 42 point margin at intermission.

From there things let up a bit as the teams relaxed, but it didn’t matter as the Blue Devils rolled to a 115-58 win.

Balance was the key phrase as Duke put seven players into double figures led by Justise Winslow’s 19 points. The freshman from Houston added seven rebounds and four assists in just 20 minutes of action. Meanwhile, fellow Texan and starter, Matt Jones, added 17 points in 18 minutes.

Other Blue Devils scoring in double figures included preseason NPOY Jahlil Okafor (15), junior forward Amile Jefferson (10), senior Quinn Cook (13), sophomore Semi Ojeleye (10), and freshman Grayson Allen (15).

Duke sent wave after wave of prep All-Americans at their guests, and by the end of the game all head coach James Stinson could do was shake his head.

“I think our guys did not take anything for granted,” said Stinson. “I think their expectations were to try to be competitive and play hard, but that’s a great basketball team. That is a very good basketball team Coach K has.“

LOTS OF DEPTH FOR NOW

Against Livingstone the Blue Devils gave 10 players double figure minutes with a range of 14-26 minutes. The low total went to junior swingman Rasheed Sulaimon who struggled on the night (4 points; 3 turnovers), while the high total went to Tyus Jones who didn’t score from the field, but still finished with 11 assists and four points.

Throughout the night Coach Krzyzewki employed the hockey line change substitution pattern, swapping five players for five new ones. It’s a phenomenon seen a season ago as well. But will it continue? It doesn’t sounds like it.

“What I wanted to do in the first half was give all of them just about equal playing time,” said Coach K. “We’ve had 20 practices – none of the guys have missed a practice with injury or sickness or whatever – and (I wanted to) just get everybody a chance to play out there with a crowd and with officials. In the second half we tried some different lineups and different combinations and we’ll do it differently on Saturday.”

Senior point guard Quinn Cook echoed his coach’s thoughts when asked if the lineup shift was the way of the future for Duke.

“Probably not – but you might. I’m not sure. Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] obviously knows what he’s doing. I think it’s a good look for us and gives teams a different look, so it was great.”

If Krzyzewski does trim the lineup this weekend, it’ll be interesting to see how various positions shake out.

WHO KNEW?

Some of the beneficiaries of the deeper bench and rotation were players who, for the most part, weren’t factors on last year’s team.

Sophomore big forward Semi Ojeleye couldn’t find the floor a season ago, but managed 10 points and eight rebounds as a reserve power forward on Tuesday. The 6-foot-8, 235 pound Kansas product showed a willingness to float to the perimeter on offense, but also attacked the basket a rebounded well inside, utilizing what Coach K has called the best athleticism on the team.

Similarly, junior big Marshall Plumlee played nearly half the game and did what was expected - he bothered shots, clogged the lane, and cleaned up around the basket. Plumlee certainly represents a change of pace from Okafor, and while he’s not going to come close to the freshman’s production, he can provide Duke a reprieve from subbing in a non-center in relief.

Marshall finished with eight points and three rebounds in 19 minutes.

In the starting lineup, Duke got a boost from little used (at least from a season ago) scoring guard Matt Jones. Jones came into Duke a season ago with the reputation of a knock down shooter. However, his shot didn’t arrive in Durham during 2013-2014 and his confidence took a severe hit.

A season later, the sophomore seems to have regained his confidence and understanding of who he can be on this roster. And the results have followed.

“He’s a good three-point shooter, he’s not a great three-point shooter, but when he’s taking great shots you go from good to very good,” said Krzyzewski. “It’s all about taking good shots and not forcing the action and he did that. He chucked one, but he had hit three-in-a-row. The main thing that Matt does is that he doesn’t have the ball long. He’s such a good defender and a good player.”

FLOOR GENERAL ARRIVES

Before trying a long, and somewhat ill-advised pass towards the end of the game, freshman Tyus Jones had posted 11 assists against no turnovers. It was the kind of performance that certainly made Blue Devil fans giddy when considering the possibilities going forward.

Though he didn’t show it in his exhibition debut, the Minnesota point guard can shoot and score when needed. Against Livingstone, however, Jones was content to distribute and run the show. He did manage four points via four three throw attempts, and he rebounded well from the lead guard spot (4).

He also showed a better than advertised defense prowess, recording two steals and pressuring the Blue Bear guards throughout the night.

What doesn’t show up in the box score is the way Jones’ presence and leadership seem to modernize the Duke attack. The Blue Devils move the ball very well, find space, and seem to always have to or three dangerous options with Jones in control. It showed as Duke ended with 25 assists on 34 made baskets.

Outside of Jones, the next high assist man was Winslow with four. Backup point guard Quinn Cook added three while Ojeleye, Grayson Allen, and Jefferson each had two helpers.

KIDS CAN PLAY AS ADVERTISED

The nation’s top recruiting class has infused this Duke roster with athleticism and promise. Additionally, Coach K’s roster looks complete at each position. Much of that is due to the arrival of Okafor, Winslow, Jones, and Allen, each of whom had a big opening night.

Winslow in particular seems to be a favorite of Krzyzewski as the powerful wing can do so many different things.

“He’s really strong. He’s 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds,” said K. “He’s very strong, he’s way ahead. He’s strong like a senior, but he also is strong mentally. When he has his hands on the ball, it’s tough to knock it away from him.”

The head coach noted that it’ll be important for both Winslow and Okafor to focus on free throw shooting as they continue to evolve this season. Both seem destined to be at the line quite a lot.

Jones, of course, ran the team and looks to be the point guard.

Meanwhile, Allen provided a look at the future backcourt - maybe the near future as he played as well as any guard on the roster. That tracked with the whispers from the summer which indicated that the Florida prospect “played with an edge” and would push Matt Jones and Sulaimon for time this year.

Allen, like Winslow, will spend a good portion of whatever playing time is earned at the free throw line thanks to an aggressive approach off the bounce. He’s also capable of hitting from the outside (3-of-7 on Tuesday) and has the tools to be a decent defender.

He finished the game with 15 points in 22 minutes. All of his field goals came off three pointers, though he also hit all six of his free throws earned off attacking the rim.

NOT ALL PERFECT

In the post game, Coach K noted some issues that needed to be addressed, though he admitted some of it was nitpicking after a team built a large lead.

“I didn’t think we started out the second half with the same intensity. You’re up by 40 points at halftime or whatever we were up and that can happen, but I thought we regained it and we played really hard. (Livingstone) is not going to stop playing hard, they’re really good players that have built a really good program.”

Aside from intensity, what contributed to the lull?

“To begin with there was no communication in the second half. But I think overall, for 90 percent of the game the communication was excellent.”

THEY SAID IT

“I think the main thing I’ve done to change my body is my diet. I was always working out and things like that, but when I started focusing on changing my diet and watching what I was eating, I really saw a lot of changes in my body. I took a lot of fast food out, a lot of sweet tea.” - Jahlil Okafor on changing his body since arriving at Duke.




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