They're back! Well, not really. Everybody will start to talk more about Duke Basketball in that they garnered their sixth consecutive win over Virginia. Duke has struggled a bit at times this season but that was mainly due to injuries. In short, Duke has been here all along and the program is simply adjusting their strategy and getting healthier.
It took a sensational second half performance from Jayson Tatum and some lock down man to man defense for their latest win. And what an impressive win it was on the road against a hostile crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia. Tatum would end the game with a Duke career high of 28 points to go with 8 rebounds. He launched some dagger three-point shots that took the life out of the offensively challenged opponent. He finished the game knocking down 6 of 7 shots from beyond the stripe.
The reason Virginia struggled on the offensive end was the Blue Devils man to man defense. Duke held Virginia to a season low 36.8 percent from the field. When the Cavaliers got some open looks it appeared they were so surprised to be open that they missed some easy shots. Duke took a page out of the Virginia playbook and turned back the clock to the days of their program staple.
Going into the half, a turnover from steady senior Amile Jefferson set off a Virginia run. That was the Blue Devils 8th turnover in the half where they had chances disappear with careless errors. But they adjusted well in the second half. None of us are privy to what Mike Krzyzewski and his staff said but the results were enough to propel a 14 point turnaround.
Duke came out on fire and knocked Virginia back after the break. They would protect the ball and commit just 3 more turnovers against the nations best defensive team. They would hang 44 points in the Cavaliers and in the end that meant a 65-55 win.
The Blue Devils also took advantage of the aggressive Virginia defensive play. In a game where they blanketed two of the Blue Devils in Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard. But Kennard would adjust and get to the line to connect on 9 of 10 attempts. He ended the game with 16 points and an impressive 7 rebounds and 3 assists. He proved why he is a lock for the coming All ACC team by adjusting his game.
It wasn't just Kennard who benefitted from getting to the line. The Blue Devils would knock down 18 of 20 from the charity stripe. That was a key element in that Virginia would not miss from the line. But Duke only allowed them 8 attempts in that they made it hard to get into the lane.
In a night when their captain Amile Jefferson battled some foul trouble, a freshman would step up. Harry Giles saw his minutes increase as he seems to be adjusting much quicker now after his injury. Giles made some good hustle plays and that is critical in the Blue Devils attempt to develop his game. Giles led the Blue Devils with 2 steals and showed flashes of the kind of player he will become with more time.
Another thing that cannot be understated or overlooked was the Blue Devils toughness. In fact, add concentration to the mix as well. The team made clear strides in the focus department winning on the road against a solid Virginia squad. Duke is a bit leathered up after all the adversity they have faced. They are a tough bunch riding a six game winning streak going into their next game with Wake Forest.
Perhaps no player was as leather tough last evening than seasoned veteran Matt Jones. His defense on London Perrantes has to be mentioned. He held the All ACC candidate to 4-of-11, two assists and three turnovers
Yes, this was a huge win for Duke who now stands 21-5 overall this season. But the win enabled the Blue Devils to vault into the top four spots in the ACC. The importance there is to gain a two game bye in the fast approaching league tournament.
On a night when the Cavaliers held Duke to a season low in points, they found a way to win. Now the team has to take the next step against a more talented offensive team in Wake Forest. But the way things are going, Krzyzewski and company have to feel good about the future.