Duke Basketball: Freshmen overcome lackluster start, force Army to retreat

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

The Duke basketball team defeated Army, 94-72, on Sunday to move to 2-0 on the season, but the skill level of the freshmen Blue Devils did not overwhelm the Black Knights until late in the contest.

Sure, the three most hyped Duke basketball freshmen again put up impressive stat lines — Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish combined for 75 of the Blue Devils’ 94 points — during their regular-season home debut in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

But the team’s win against Army on Sunday did not come close to matching the all-around fireworks show that it put on in Indianapolis during a 118-84 blowout over Kentucky in the season opener earlier in the week.

And one glaring reason for that shortcoming was a defensive effort that was often lackluster — at least when compared to the Kentucky game.

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In fact, up until about the midway point of the second half, the victory was still in doubt as the Black Knights continued to pour in uncontested threes, many of which came in transition as the Blue Devils failed to get back. The visitors finished 12-of-31 from beyond the arc while committing fewer turnovers than their opponent (10 to 12).

However, following the under-12 minute timeout, Duke finally dug in on defense — no longer being shy about diving for loose balls and getting into passing lanes — while also heating up as a group on offense. An 11-0 Duke spurt finally put the game out of Army’s reach.

The firepower of the young Blue Devils — including a 15-of-36 performance of their own from three — was just too much to handle for an entire 40 minutes for the more experienced, yet far less talented Black Knights (picked by the media to finish sixth in the Patriot League this season).

Speaking of firepower, Williamson was the lone Blue Devil to display it early and often throughout the game on both ends of the floor (however, in likely the surprise of the night, his first dunk did not come until the seven-minute mark of the first half). The 6-foot-7, 285-pound power forward scored a game-high 27 points, grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds, blocked a game-high six shots (many several rows deep into the crowd), and dished out four assists in 32 minutes of play.

Reddish, who along with Barrett hit the key threes to spark Duke’s important run in the second half, finished with 25 points (most of which came from an impressive 7-of-13 mark from three). His seven three-pointers were the most ever by a freshman Blue Devil — falling just two short of the most ever by any Blue Devil (J.J. Redick and Shane Battier each had nine in a game) and marking the most by any Duke player since Andre Dawkins hit eight in a game in 2010. The 6-foot-8 small forward also contributed seven boards and three assists.

As for the other certain one-and-done freshman, Barrett started the game in a shooting funk, but he warmed up after the break and ended with 23 points on 9-of-19 shooting. He also had six rebounds. By trying to force the issue as the Blue Devils were trying to find a way to pull away from Army, though, Barrett turned the ball over five times.

Fellow freshman starter, Tre Jones, played a solid game as the floor general, ending up with eight points, seven assists, and just two turnovers.

The Blue Devils’ fifth starter, junior center Marques Bolden, did not score in his 13 minutes of action. Other than a few flashes, he appeared passive, resembling more his play from last season than his impressive play against Kentucky. Likely in part due to that disappointing effort from Bolden, junior forward Jack White played 25 minutes, scoring six points and providing energy as the first man off the bench.

Duke’s next test will come again in Cameron Indoor Stadium when it welcomes Eastern Michigan at 7 p.m. EST on Wednesday.

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Stay tuned to Ball Durham for more analysis and takeaways from the win against Army.