With the exception of an unfortunate injury to Cassius Stanley as he was warming up, yesterday was a total feel-good day for the Duke Blue Devils.
The Return of Zion Williamson
The former Duke standout has taken the world by storm and is now an attraction wherever he turns up. Williamson had participated in the NBA Rising Star game the night before wowing fans with his play. He went out of his way to make it to Duke in time to catch part of the game and when he entered necks were bending. Williamson was also able to see Mike Buckmire collect a late-game basket and it was clear that tickled him. Williamson went to the Duke locker room after the win and hung out with players but he did not address the media, not wanting to take the focus off the team. He spoke with the aforementioned Cassius Stanley who was not able to play in the locker room.
The Return of Tyus "Stones" Jones
A national champion was in Cameron yesterday. Tyus Jones came back to sit with his mom Debbie who is recovering after a health scare. The two were able to see Tre who is having a banner season for the Blue Devils. Tyus spoke with some in the media and it was clear he was there for his brother He also told me they would be able to spend some time together that evening.
It is fair to say that Notre Dame guards Rex Pfluger and T,J, Gibbs will not soon forget the Blue Devils defense on them. They were both held scoreless. The Duke defense was stellar in pushing the Irish off the three-point stripe which is their bread and butter strength. In fact, the Irish were held to a season-low made three's. Duke also scored 19 points off forced Notre Dame turnovers and their thing is ball protection.
Matthew Hurt is Playing his Best Ball of Late
At times this season, Matthew Hurt has struggled to adjust to the physicality of the college game. He has turned a corner of late and his 12 points and 9 rebounds were somewhat lost in a game where so many players had success. There was a play in the first half when Irish star John Moody was guarding Hurt and banging on him hard. Hurt backed him down despite the no calls and connected on a mid-range shot. If Hurt continues to hit the boards as he did yesterday and grows his inside game to go with his three-point shot, we will be talking about him a lot moving forward.
The most pleasant surprise this season is the play of Jordan Goldwire. He flat out shut down Irish guards. His offense is getting better and he was working with Duke assistant Chris Carrawell two hours before the game started. The one play where he was relentless on defense, gained a steal and connected on a drive on the other end was a crowd-pleaser. He will be further tested by a guard-heavy Wolfpack team next.
Big Vern Shows Off
Vernon Carey Jr took over in the first half against the Irish. He took it to John Mooney and showed he was at times unstoppable when he gets intense. Carey has been a difference-maker for Duke this season and he is the best big man in the league. Once Duke took a commanding lead, Carey's numbers dropped off, but he made a definite statement in the game,
Make no mistake, the keys to the machine are owned by Tre Jones. His play continued to be top-notch on both sides of the ball as his brother and mom looked on. His steady play gives Duke two player of the year candidates. Duke is 33-4 when he scores in double-digits.
Duke Won Their 7th Straight Game
The Blue Devils are playing as well as any team in the nation as they won their seventh consecutive game. Duke is likely to move up in the rankings but a very hungry N.C. State team awaits them next. Duke rolled the Irish and never looked back once that started. The smashing of the Irish was a near-perfect performance.
The Win Puts Duke in 1st Place
The Blue Devils moved into sole possession of 1st place in the ACC with their blowout win over Notre Dame. Louisville stumbled at Clemson earlier in the day and that allowed for Duke to take a half-game lead in the standings.
Quinn Cook Return
The Los Angeles Lakers Quinn Cook was the other part of the 2015 National Champion backcourt to return from the NBA All Star break to take in a game. Always popular, the Crazies could not manage to get him to sit with them. He conversed a bit with mentor Nolan Smith on the bench once the game was in control. Cook had to head out shortly after with big Duke win to get back to business.
We have mentioned some of the players which played well for Duke, but yesterday had a lot of good performances. Javin DeLaurier logged good minutes and he is playing well of late. Alex O'Connell had a team-high 4 steals to go with his 12 points for a super effort. Joey Baker scored 8 points in 14 minutes as well. And Justin Robinson and Mike Buckmire scored in late-game minutes.
Cassius Stanley Will Be Fine
I have no idea how a manager scratched Cassius Stanley's eye in the pre-game warm-ups. I do know he hated missing the game with former players back. As I said in opening this was one of the few negative moments. But the silver lining is he will be ready to go when Duke travels to N.C. State and that is good news and a way to close the feel-good dozen.