The Blue Devils followed up a great home win over Miami with a head-scratching loss to NC State raising more questions for this Duke Basketball team.
Duke Basketball followed up an encouraging comeback win over by by suffering a shocking 84-82 upset at home to NC State. The Blue Devils fall to 15-5 overall and 3-4 in the ACC this season and will be searching for answers after this one.
Interim head coach decided to start the five players who sparked Duke in the second half of the Miami game, but unfortunately that did not pay off tonight. Luke Kennard led the team in scoring off the bench with 20 and was joined in double figures by Jayson Tatum (16), Grayson Allen (13), and Matt Jones (11). Here are our three takeaways from the game:
1. Dennis Smith, Jr.
Duke had no answer for the freshman guard, who dominated against the Blue Devils with a career-high 32 points. Even Duke’s defensive lineup that excelled against Miami struggled to stop the NC State point guard. He also got his teammates involved recording six assists and was able to drive and get to the paint easily. The Blue Devils’ struggles to stop guard penetration that haunted them against Florida State and Louisville returned, but the Wolfpack guards were able to drive even without pick-and-rolls. This was mainly due to the great talent of Smith, but also defensive miscues by the Blue Devils on defense.
2. Free Throws
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Missed free throws played a key role for both teams and retrospectively ended up costing Duke Basketball the game. Both teams shot 66.7% from the free throw line, and the Blue Devils missed out on seven free points against the Wolfpack. Those were crucial in what ended up being a two-point loss, and getting to the free throw line should be a strength of this Duke team with the talent and versatility they have on the offensive end. The players will need to work to clean that up going forward to avoid missing out on scoring opportunities.
3. Who’s the Closer?
The Blue Devils were not able to handle the increased game pressure after NC State made the game close late. The Wolfpack had a clear gameplan and closer in Dennis Smith, Jr. However, Duke seemed to have no idea what to do towards the end. It seemed like Jayson Tatum was the go-to option, and whether that was drawn up by Capel or just Tatum taking over it failed miserably for the Blue Devils. The freshman forward finished with 16 points and 9 rebounds but struggled late missing lay-ups, taking tough shots, and turning it over in crucial moments including in the final second with a chance to tie or win. Even though he was struggling throughout the game, you have to rely on the scoring and play-making ability of Grayson Allen down the stretch.
The Blue Devils will be back in action on Saturday afternoon in a must-win game at Wake Forest. Duke has severely struggled on the road and have yet to win a true road game this season, but will need to pull things together quickly in Winston-Salem if they want to salvage this season.