PLAYER OF THE GAMEJahlil Okafor started the game on another level and then went nearly 20 minutes of game time without scoring a field goal. He got things going late as Duke made a futile effort to rally, but it wasn’t enough. Still, the freshman center was the best of the losing side, scoring 23 points and grabbing 12 rebounds and he posted those numbers while dealing with constant double teams and physical play from his opponents.
There’s plenty to nitpick about Okafor’s disappearance from the game’s relevance for so long, but on the whole he was Duke’s best player.
KEY MOMENTSDuke got a stop and then Justise Winslow attacked the basket, getting fouled along the way. He knocked down the free throw and the game was tied at 42 within the first four minutes of the second half.
And then the wheels fell off of the Blue Devils’ wagon.
On the next possession Ralston Turner knocked down a long three pointer over Jahlil Okafor, Igniting a 30-11 run that put the game well out of reach on Trevor Lacey’s there pointer with 5:32 remaining.
During that 10 minute stretch the Wolfpack knocked down jumper after jumper - many of them contested, and when State missed they were bailed out by their post players scoring inside. The Pack was also aided by the Blue Devils’ leaving points at the line and committing a number of turnovers.
Throughout that extended period of misery Duke’s collective body language went through an array of negative postures from annoyed to frustrated to shocked to shook to disinterested. Meanwhile NC State kept coming and began picking the Blue Devils apart.
STAT OF THE GAMEPoints in the Paint: NC State 24, Duke 14.
The pregame scouting report certainly suggested that NC State’s guards would be a matchup problem for the Blue Devils. But Duke was supposed to be able to counter that with a huge advantage on the interior. Instead, for the second straight game, Duke (and Okafor) allowed lesser known big men to have career afternoons. On Wednesday it was Devin Thomas of Wake Forest. On Sunday it was Kyle Washington and BeeJay Anya.
While Okafor looked like a sure fire lottery pick in the first four minutes of the game, the Pack big men matched and even surpassed his for most of the middle of the game - the time when the outcome was established. Anya scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds while blocking four shots. Washington countered with nine points and four blocks of his own. When each of those players were making shots and establishing the momentum for their team, it was usually over at least at Okafor’s expense.
Anya in particular earned the praise of Krzyzewski.
“Unbelievable, terrific performance,” said K of the Pack’s center. “That’s a hard working kid. Big. And he completed plays. That was a huge difference in the game.”
When they weren’t scoring over or around Okafor, the State post players (and his own teammates) were forcing him off the blocks, forcing him to often put the ball on the floor and dribble away from the basket. And, as the freshman told the media following the game, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
“Earlier this season, my teammates were great when I passed out of double teams,” said Okafor. “When they start hitting shots, it makes it hard for them to double team.”
GENERAL THOUGHTSDuke was never going to go undefeated this season. As Coach K told the media last week, this team “isn’t a juggernaut, but a good group that wants to get better.”
So, it’s not a surprise that the Blue Devils lost. On the road. After all, Duke usually seems to bring out the best in opponents when they come to town. That was certainly the case on Sunday as NC State played its best game of the season. But was Sunday’s performance - complete with defensive lapses, and an inability to find the kind of flow that defined the Duke offense early on in the season- illustrative of bigger issues facing this team?
Duke didn’t play well in either game this week - both on the road in hostile environments. And things don’t get much easier with a trip to Louisville next week. So what needs to change?
- For starters, the team needs to put out an APB for Tyus Jones. The freshman guard who was instrumental in every one of Duke’s big wins early in the season, wasn’t on his game against the Wolfpack. He missed five of six shots, and three wide open looks from the perimeter.
That he couldn’t stop or even slow down either Lacey or Turner wasn’t a surprise. Defense was the biggest knock on Jones coming into college. But, he’s been generally ineffective for the start of ACC play. Jones is shooting just 4-of-18 overall and 1-of-5 from the perimeter in three conference games. His assist to turnover margin is also way down to just 2.5-to-1.
- Was this the annual game where observers will look at the way the game was approached and think “Coach K was letting his young team figure it out.?” There were a couple of extended periods of time in the second half where Duke looked rattled and unsure. State poured on the pressure and extended the lead while the Blue Devils hoped for the next media timeouts. The game’s outcome was decided during these extended stretches.