Takeaways: Duke v. Livingstone

The first game of the season against a real opponent provided quite a lot of interesting questions.

Duke opened the 2014-2015 season against the Livingstone Blue Bears on Tuesday evening on Coach K Court inside Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The visitors brought a roster with no player taller than 6-foot-9. The lack of size didn’t help the Blue Bears against a Blue Devil team that’s long on skill, size, and athleticism. Duke started the game on a 16-2 run and never looked back on the way to a 57 point victory.

So what was the key to Duke’s success? Communication was the key.

“We did a great job talking,” said Quinn Cook. “We deflected a lot of balls. We were constantly talking. We got back to what we do.”

Deflections, talking, and defense. Things we didn’t see a season ago as Duke played the worst defense on the program’s 30 plus years under Coach K. This season, however, there’s a change.

“We have the potential to be a very good defensive team,” said Marshall Plumlee. “We saw a lot of really good efforts on the defensive end of the floor.”

They were certainly pretty good for the first 20 minutes, holding the Blue Bears to just 14 points in the first half.

In those first 20 minutes of the game, Duke employed the hockey style substitution approach – swapping five starters for five substitutions. Duke’s “second line” played 11 minutes and consisted of Quinn Cook, Grayson Allen, Rasheed Sulaimon, Semi Ojeleye, and Marshall Plumlee.

Coach K said after the game, that he was experimenting with different lineups and tried to “get everyone a chance to play in front of a crowd with officials,” especially since not a single player had missed a practice so far. “We’ll differently on Saturday,” which is when Duke plays its 2nd exhibition game against Central Missouri.

While defense was communicated well, the offense and energy of the first five was played at a high level. The starters also played with what Coach K has referred to at times as a “strong face.” They were intense and everywhere. When the 2nd line took the court, that same energy was not there at first. As the half went on and they were on the court more, it started to come around. The 2nd team did not play bad, as evident by the halftime score of 56-14, but a difference was observed.

Krzyzewski started the second half with a different line up that had not been observed in any of the other practices open to the public. Cook and Sulaimon started alongside Tyus Jones, Winslow, and Okafor. Cook seemed to respond immediately but something was not liked early on from Sulaimon. He was replaced by Jefferson early in the 2nd half.

Sulaimon did not re-enter the game.

“He (Sulaimon) didn’t play well,” said Coach K. “If a guy is not playing well, we have depth. So, you’ve got to play well; it’s all about depth…….We can’t afford for people not to play well. We have enough guys that can play well. So, it’s better if 10 of them are playing well. Hopefully if eight to 10 of them are playing well every night then we’re going to have a good chance at winning. And they all have got to find their place. Tonight, I thought they were really trying to find that.”

Maybe this is an indication that Duke will be able to utilize a deep bench this season.

Back to the game, the Blue Devils not only communicated well, but they shared the ball extremely well and shot from all over the field at a good pace. Three point baskets were made multiple times by Matt Jones, Justice Winslow, Quinn Cook, and Grayson Allen. Semi Ojeleye added one three pointer of his own. Matt Jones was the most prolific from the outside with five.

Livingstone fouled Duke 28 times in this contest sending the Blue Devils to the free throw line 40 times. Of those trips, Duke found success 32 times for a game percentage of 80%. Tyus Jones scored his four points all from the foul line, while Semi Ojeleye scored seven of his 10 points there. No one on the team shot less than 50% from the line.

Many of Duke’s players had productive games.

Two that stood out were Justice Winslow and Matt Jones. If the opposing team notices that Justice Winslow has the ball, they should make plans to get between him and the basket because that is where he is going. The 6-foot-6, 220 pound wing handles the ball very well and is strong in his decisions of what he wants to do with the ball.

“I think whatever guard gets it, can push the ball. We don’t have to hit a designated guy to bring the ball up,” said Winslow of his ability and likeliness of handling the ball this season.

Fellow Texan, Matt Jones hit five of eight three point attempts. Jones finished with 17 points on the evening, while playing 18 minutes. He appears more confident with the ball than as a freshman, something that Coach K had contributed to being a year older and more mature, at Countdown to Craziness.

“Matt is a really good player,” said Coach K. “He’s an easy guy to play with. 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. 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.”

Overall, the first non intra-squad game was a success on many fronts for Duke. This group seems willing to share the ball, commit to defense, and they genuinely seem to enjoy playing together. It all adds up to a season that could be a lot of fun in Durham.

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