Like many assassins, Andre Dawkins is easy to miss.
The quiet, unassuming junior shooting guard is used to teammates setting screens for him. At the team’s media day, Dawkins sat at one end of the room, speaking to print media, while Ryan Kelly was at the other, talking to TV.
Kelly’s booming voice overwhelmed Dawkins’ soft-spoken answers, and, after leaning forward to the point of losing their balance, many writers gave up and headed across the room to listen in on Kelly.
It’s the same in the Duke locker room, where Dawkins is nestled between Kelly and Seth Curry, who occupy the post-game quote seekers, allowing Dawkins to do what he does best, float in and float out, waiting for his moment.
There are plenty of games where Dawkins goes unnoticed as well. He was just one of three against Presbyterian and didn’t even put up a shot in the first half, when the game was still relatively close.
He also had five ACC games last year where he was held scoreless, three of which saw him get less than 10 minutes of playing time.
But there are also those games where he comes out from behind the screen. Like any good gunslinger, he comes out firing.
For the first 39 and a half minutes, the season-opener appeared to be the former. Duke built a nine-point first-half lead over Belmont, a 16-point lead in the second half, and an eight-point margin with just over three minutes to play.
But Belmont was the horror-movie villain, refusing to die. Each time, they responded, and the Blue Devils found themselves enduring one final run, as Belmont cut the lead to a mere one point in the final minute.
Duke had three turnovers and a missed shot on their last five possessions and hadn’t scored a basket in more than three minutes down the stretch. As the clock moved under a half a minute in the game, it was beginning to look like another failed possession.
Duke spent a timeout to get their teetering offense back under control, and the Devils went back onto the floor with a few seconds left on the shot clock. As the Cameron crowd counted down the seconds, the ball came to Dawkins, and he hit the game-clinching three with 19.7 seconds remaining.
“Andre hit the biggest shot of the night,” Mason Plumlee said.
It was his first made three of the game and just his second made shot. The first, which came in the first half, also moved Duke from a one-possession to two-possession lead. On the year, he’s 3 for 5 on “dagger shots” that give the Blue Devils a little breathing room.
In Mike Krzyzewski’s record-setting game against Michigan State, Duke came out of the gates out of synch. “I don’t know if it was nerves or the moment was so big or what,” Krzyzewski said afterward.
Again, with the team teetering on the brink, Dawkins responded, carrying the team to the half with four 3-pointers.
Dawkins finished the game with 26 points. “Andre had the best game of his career at Duke,” Krzyzewski said. “Not just the points, but he had four steals and no turnovers.”
It also wasn’t just the points but when he got them. There were eight ties in the first half. Dawkins produced two of them on 3-pointers. Of the five lead changes, Dawkins was responsible for three, with a pair of three-pointers and a dunk. All five of his first-half shots either tied the game or gave Duke the lead.
In the second half, one of his three made shots gave Duke a lead, and another was a dagger shot that produced a two-possession lead.
Dawkins is shooting .440 on the season. But when he has a chance to give Duke the lead, he improves to .500, when he can tie the score, he’s also at .500, and when he has the chance to stick in a dagger, he’s at .600.
As Duke pulled away, and coach Krzyzewski’s date with history became assured, the assassin stopped shooting and faded into the background again.
Until the next time his team is scrambling and needs a steady hand on the trigg