What Went Right:
Survive and Advance
Usually high major programs don’t struggle in their second game of the season, but given today’s parity it’s not uncommon for a mid-major team to put a scare into the big boys. Davidson certainly proved game on Monday night, coming into the game to win, not just make a good showing. The Wildcats were clearly unimpressed with the quality of their opponent, nor were they intimidated by the D-U-K-E across their chests.
It translated into a team that was primed for an upset. Midway through the first half it seemed as though the Wildcats had Duke on the ropes, leading by 12 while preventing the Devils from any open looks resulting in an 0-of-11 start from the perimeter. Despite the slow start and an obviously energized opponent, the Blue Devils eventually took care of business and held on for the victory.
Coming into the season many speculated that Sean Dockery would take over for Chris Duhon at the point. After losing the starting nod to a converted shooting guard in the preseason there was concern that Dockery would regress further. However, the junior came off the bench to score a career high 15 points including a perfect 2-of-2 from the perimeter and 7-of-8 from the free throw line, giving his team a much needed lift when it looked like they were on the ropes.
Leader Stepping Up
Just when Davidson seemed on the verge of stealing this game, it was Daniel Ewing who came up with a steal and five straight points to push the lead back into double figures. Despite playing out of sync while learning the point guard position for much of the game, Ewing was still willing and able to throw his team on his back and move forward, willing his team to a win.
Not just a shooter anymore
Though he’ll always be primarily thought of as a shooter, J.J. Redick showed an improved all around floor game last night, scoring off dribble drives and hitting midrange jumpers throughout the night. He’s still yet to get into a groove with his perimeter shot, but it’ll come around eventually. Unlike last year, that’s not hindering him from scoring in bunches.
Small Ball Steals Minutes
Though many in Duke nation don’t want to see it, the Blue Devils actually stole over half the game with a small lineup due to the big guys being ineffective and foul prone early. When Williams went out midway through the first half, Duke inserted Dockery and ran with Randolph and four guards. The result was a weaker inside game, but the kind of lockdown, high intensity defense that Krzyzewksi coached teams have been known by for the last few decades.
Clearly it’s not going to work as well against the ACC this year, but the ability to change and adapt to a quicker game while ratcheting up the defense to the point of negating another big guy is a nice option for small stretches.
As a whole the defensive effort was superb for a 13 minute stretch that straddled halftime. During that time, Duke turned a 21-18 deficit into a 44-24 lead, or a 26-3 run thanks in large part to high intensity on the ball defense that forced Davidson into difficult attempts from the perimeter instead of the easy looks they enjoyed in the first half.
What Went Wrong
A House of Cards
The Blue Devils built a sizable lead on the strength of high intensity defense and good shot selection only to revert back to forced shots and hurried offensive possessions that allowed the Wildcats to regain their composure and cut the lead all the way down. Rather than looking to make the extra pass and find the open shooters, Duke seemed content to fire up jumpers early in the possession without anyone near the basket. This led to several one and done possessions, and with the shooting woes piling up it was a recipe for trouble.
Usually it’s not a wise move to zone Duke. After all you’re basically assuring open looks for Redick and Ewing, along with other capable shooters. However Davidson took a calculated risk and boxed Williams and Randolph in with a 1-2-1 set that dared Redick and Ewing to fire. Both did, and both missed early as the team went 0-for-11 to start the game.
For whatever reason the team was just cold to start the game, and continued to fire from the perimeter before Dockery eventually knocked down a pair of open looks.
At times Shavlik Randolph looked like the player the coaching staff is expecting him to be by going up strong and dunking the ball hard in traffic. Other times he seemed timid and unsure of himself inside, trying to head fake his opponent numerous times before attempting to finesse the ball in traffic. Once he gets more touches in the offense and finds the consistency he lacked last night, Randolph will transform into a vital part of the Duke machine.
Hit the boards
Against Tennessee-Martin, Randolph and Williams along out-rebounded the Skyhawks. Against the Wildcats it was the opponents who established and maintained dominance early on inside. While the two big guys are likely the top two rebounders this year, it’s imperative that the team make a conscience effort to help out to prevent fouls and second chances for the opponents.
TDD Player of the Game
For providing the spark off the bench and carrying Duke in a crucial period, Sean Dockery edges out Daniel Ewing for TDD Player of the Game honors.
In the end Duke comes out of this game a bit more battle tested, and with a blueprint of what needs to be worked on. Much like last year Duke seems to be trying to develop chemistry on the offensive end that identifies and incorporates each player’s strengths at the appropriate time. Despite losing to Purdue, Duke eventually built their offense enough to propel them to a Final Four. The same process is taking place this year, and it’ll take some time to finally ‘click’.
Next up is North Carolina A&T on Saturday night in Cameron, which should provide the Blue Devils a chance to continue to work on their weaknesses before hosting Top 15 opponent Michigan State next week.