Duke Basketball: Bolden’s blocks, boards, buckets embolden Blue Devils

(Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
(Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images) /

Without the services of an energized Marques Bolden throughout a semifinal game in the Maui Invitational on Tuesday night, the Duke basketball team might no longer be undefeated.

Almost a month before the season began, I wrote an article here at Ball Durham outlining three reasons why a Duke basketball junior center was destined to finally live up to expectations.

At the time, doubters of the game of Marques Bolden were prevalent. And that doubt was understandable. After all, the 6-foot-11, 250-pounder had failed to score a single point across the team’s three-game Canada Tour in August after only averaging 2.8 points and 2.5 rebounds during his first two injury-plagued seasons as a Blue Devil.

But I explained in the article how Bolden was ready, willing, and able to produce the way coaches, teammates, and fans expected him to when he arrived in Durham as one of four five-star talents in Duke’s 2016 class (the other three — Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, and Frank Jackson — are all now second-year NBA players).

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Now, not to toot my own horn — no, all praise belongs to Bolden — but after No. 1 Duke’s 78-72 win over No. 8 Auburn on Tuesday to advance to the final of the Maui Invitational, my preseason article about the Desoto, Tex., native is officially aging well.

Leading up to the game against the Tigers, the four latest five-star freshmen on campus — Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones — deserved the bulk of the credit for the Blue Devils’ dominant 4-0 start (all four wins were by at least 22 points).

Credit the fifth win to Bolden.

“We protect each other,” the lone non-freshman starter said on ESPN following the game. “And that’s what I did today.”

He protected his teammates by protecting the rim, running the floor, finishing when opportunities arose, and snatching rebounds — five that provided extra opportunities for his squad on offense and four that squelched possessions by a potent Auburn squad.

For the first time in a Duke jersey, Bolden did more than just show flashes here and there. This time around, his consistent play was enough to give him a sniff of a triple-double. He finished with 11 points, nine rebounds, and seven blocks.

And without those career-high seven blocks — tied with eight others for the Maui Invitational single-game record — the Blue Devils would have allowed the Tigers to get a stronger whiff of an upset.

A couple of those swats came in the first four minutes of the second half as Duke doubled its halftime lead from eight to 16. A few more came in the final six minutes of the game as Auburn continued to stay within striking distance.

But Bolden’s most impactful block was his fifth, which landed in the hands of Jones with five minutes to play as the Blue Devils held a 71-61 advantage. Instead of hanging back as if his work was done after his play on defense, though, Bolden darted down the floor and was on the receiving end of Jones’ alley-oop pass.

Speaking of running the floor, several more of Bolden’s defensive plays, including his rebounds and tap-outs, led to transition buckets. And on offense, the big man drew fouls, followed his teammates’ missed shots with putback dunks, set frequent effective screens, and only committed one turnover.

So it’s no wonder he played a part in four of the five top plays put out by the Duke basketball program’s official Twitter account after the game, as shown here:

It’s also no wonder that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made certain that a chunk of his comments during the postgame press conference focused on Bolden’s play. And he wanted to make sure Bolden, who sat at the table along with Jones fielding questions, had the chance to hear his praise.

"“Before [the players] leave I would like [to say] one more thing about Marques,” the all-time winningest college basketball coach said. “In his freshman year, he was starting and then got hurt and then never got back to that level. His sophomore year, he’s playing really well and we have a lot of bigs that we had [in] a rotation. And then he had an injury in January. And so he hasn’t been the luckiest guy in the world. And we’re proud of him because he’s stuck in there and we’re fortunate. These freshmen are fortunate to have him on our team.”"

Up next for Duke is the title game today against No. 3 Gonzaga at 5 p.m. EST. As for Bolden, all he needs to do in order to continue helping his team win and helping my preseason article about him continue to age well is simple:

Top 10 wins of the Coach K era. dark. Next

Keep it up.