Takeaways: Duke v. Central Missouri

Defense and improved communication have allowed the Blue Devils piece of mind in two early tests.

For the second and final exhibition matchup of the season the Bue Devils hosted the Mules of Central Missouri. As has become tradition, Central Missouri entered Cameron Indoor Stadium as the defending NCAA Division II Champions. Early on the champions looked the part, jumping out to a 13-7 lead and threatening to actually dictate control of the half.

And then Duke woke up.

Central Missouri kept the lead until Quinn Cook hit a 3 pointer to give Duke a one point advantage, and the Blue Devils would never look. Duke’s defense keyed a 17-0 run that lasted from the 13:24 mark until Brennen Hughes broke the drought with a layup at 5:32 left in the half.

That early Mule lead was certainly unexpected, but didn’t induce any sort of panic or worry amongst the hosts. Instead, head coach Mike Krzyzewski continued to his pre-planned substitution pattern, swapping the first line for the second five following the first television timeout. That second line of Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Grayson Allen, Semi Ojeleye, and Marshall Plumlee seemed to bring a different level of energy, and helped right the ship.

It was the only line change of the evening as Coach K reverted back to traditional situational subs the rest of the contest.

Following the 17-0 run the Blue Devils maintained the intensity and, more importantly, execution en route to a 40 point win. Throughout the remainder of the contest the team continued with an elite level of communication punctuated by a noticeable enthusiasm whenever a defensive stop was achieved.

For their collective part the Cameron Crazies had many reasons to be all smiles. Their Blue Devils produced big play after big play, and along the way there were a number of highlight reel sequences. Perhaps the signature play of the day came when freshman center Jahlil Okafor swatted a shot attempt off the backboard. The ball fell to Tyus Jones who streaked up the floor before finding Justise Winslow for a dunk.

And speaking of Winslow, the 6-foot-6, 225 pound Texas wing continues to be a force on both ends of the court. He finished this game with 17 points and six rebounds, and factored heavily into the game’s highlight real with a couple of powerful finishes. Classmate Tyus Jones found his offense a bit more, finishing with eight points, six assists, and five steals.

Jahlil Okafor, added 15 points and 9 rebounds. Okafor got a sneak peek of how many teams may defend him this season, as Central Missouri used a very physical approach. Okafor was constantly double-teamed, and sometimes just plain held in an attempt to slow him down. The freshman enjoys a size advantage over most defenders he faces, but it’s his speed and footwork that really rounds out his offensive skill set. The are simple elite.

Duke would finish with 5 players in double figures in scoring. Overall the three point shooting was not strong, especially at 15.4% in the first half. Fortunately Duke’s defense held their opponents in check until the offensive machinery found its footing. Duke continued to build the lead enough that the two walk-ons, Sean Kelly and Nick Pagliuca, were able to check in for the final minute, much to the delight of the Crazies.

After a poor start in the first exhibition game, many fans wondered “what’s wrong with Rasheed Sulaimon”. Those concerns likely intensified as the junior once against struggled for most of the contest as he finished with just one three pointer and a few free throws. He did factor in with four assists and two steals, but it’s a long way from where the Texas native wants his offense to be. And yet, Sulaimon was all smiles in the post game as he pointed out his new role.

“Since I’ve been here for two years now, my job is to try to be a leader as much as I can. To help these guys to transition from high school to college basketball as quickly as possible. I think we are doing a great job of that. We already have tremendous chemistry and great comradery as a team. I just try to fit in where I can. We have a lot of talent. No one person has to do anything too extra. If you just do your role and play hard, we have 10 guys that can go in and score the ball and defend the ball. I’m just trying to use my talents to the best of my ability and just try to contribute as much as I can.”

This Duke team has a lot of depth that has been documented. The good thing is that this depth can be effective in a variety of ways. Even though the team has had double figure scorers in its first two exhibitions, as Coach K pointed out in the post-game presser, they have not had a 20-point scorer yet. With so many options, a player can be valuable by simply being efficient with the ball and fitting into the system as Sulaimon noted.

The key to that will be communication, something that has allowed the defensive and offensive approaches to be effective albeit against inferior competition. Still, it’s a marked improvement from a season ago as Amile Jefferson noted. .

“We’re doing a great job of contesting and talking and playing as one on defense,” said Jefferson. “We’re not fouling very much. We’re not getting into the bonus until one minute left in the half and that’s great for our team because that means we’re playing great defense in the right way.”

Duke will now turn its attention to the regular season opener with two games in two consecutive days. Friday’s foe is Presbyterian followed by a match with Fairfield on Saturday. Duke fans will get to see how the Blue Devils react to a tournament like schedule on its first regular season weekend.

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