Duke Basketball: Blue Devils take foes’ bait by jacking up open 3-pointers

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

The Duke basketball team waves a white flag by settling for outside shots; eventually, all opponents will pack the paint and watch with glee as the Blue Devils shoot themselves in the foot.

Settling for what a defense allows, like the Duke basketball players continue to do by jacking up 3-pointers, is the ultimate sign of weakness.

Lowly Georgia Tech won at Syracuse by 14 on Saturday while only attempting 12 shots from beyond the arc. Apparently, the No. 1 Blue Devils, who jacked up 43 prayers from deep and only made nine during a 95-91 home overtime loss to the Orangemen on Monday, aren’t as skilled as the 10-6 Yellow Jackets at finding better shots against zone defenses than those from long distance.

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For those that haven’t seen the box score from the game, junior co-captain Jack White was 0-for-10 from 3-point land and freshman R.J. Barrett was 4-for-17.

Apparently, though, the Blue Devils — as well as many of their fans — still believe that the best shots to take are the ones that opponents encourage.

Appears lazy. Weak. And just plain disrespectful to the history of a program that used to pride itself on dictating the types of shots it would take, regardless of an opponent’s style of defense.

The ’92 Duke title-winning squad, the best of all-time, also faced several zones yet only averaged 10.9 3-point attempts per game on its way to a 34-2 record. This ’19 squad, now 14-2 on the season, has already surpassed the total 3-point attempts of the ’92 team and is averaging 25.6 not-so-pretty heaves from downtown per game, which is on pace to be the second-highest mark in program history — despite having, by far, the worst shooting percentage from deep of any Duke team before it.

Admittedly, this writer at Ball Durham has already written a similar piece about this exact issue. Yet as long as the issue continues to worsen, the articles will continue to be written.

ALSO READ: Excessive outside shots doom Blue Devils’ potential

Apparently, coach Mike Krzyzewski is OK with his guys being the butt of zones’ jokes.

"“We had open shots,” the Blue Devils’ 39th-year head man said after the game. “They were threes as [Syracuse] was clogging the lane, so I don’t fault my guys for [taking so many].”"

Most McDonald’s are also always open. But that doesn’t mean a person should eat 43 Big Macs per day.

Granted, the outcome against the Orangemen likely would have been different if not for the absence of freshman Cam Reddish, due to the flu, and freshman Tre Jones, due to an AC joint separation to his right shoulder that he suffered early in the first half.

Yes, the lack of defensive prowess — which was a result of not having the ball-hawking of Jones and wingspan of Reddish — played a part in the Blue Devils not finding easier solutions to score. After all, transition opportunities all but ceased after Jones went to the locker room.

But the masterful point guard isn’t coming back any time soon. In fact, he may not come back at all this season.

And the outside-shooting woes — despite a nice performance from deep at Florida State on Saturday with a particularly nice ending — are nothing new for this team. Victories have simply masked the issue.

Future opponents are going to figure out — if they all haven’t already — that the best way to defend Duke is to pack the paint and giggle as the Blue Devils chip the paint off rims when shooting wide-open 3-pointers.

Reminder: The Duke basketball roster does not include a single prolific shooter. The only player in the regular rotation with a clip from deep better than 36 percent is sophomore guard Alex O’Connell, who has hit 16 of his 42 attempts for the season.

As a unit, the squad is connecting on just 31.8 percent of its tries. One would think this dismal percentage would slow down the players’ attempts, but the opposite is true:

The percentage continues to slide, yet the average number of attempts per game continues to rise.

As a lifelong Duke fan, it’s not much fun to watch — especially when knowing there are better options than 3-pointers. And it’s not encouraging for the future.

It. Has. To. Stop.

And do not dare say that the Blue Devils were trying to get the ball into freshman beast Zion Williamson’s hands but simply couldn’t at the end of regulation and in overtime. That would be a bogus response.

Watch the tape.

Williamson, who finished with a game-high 35 points on a 12-for-20 clip from the field, was largely ignored in the end, especially in overtime, after giving the Blue Devils their best success at attacking the zone — by far the most efficient — in the game’s first 35 minutes.

He should have been given the opportunity to finish with more than 40 points. That almost certainly would have translated into a Duke win.

Now, the 6-foot-7, 285-pounder did miss a free throw in the last minute of regulation that may have won the game for Duke. But the not-so-clutch foul shooting from the team is a topic of a future article.

This article is about the most pressing problem:

Wasting possessions with deep prayers while playing into the hands of opponents.

The next opponent, undefeated Virginia, is going to come into Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday at 6 p.m. (on ESPN) and use its famous pack-line defense to try and dictate the shots Duke takes.

Will the Blue Devils take the bait? Or will they assert their dominance by not doing exactly what the Cavaliers want them to do?

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Hoping for the latter. Hoping not to have to write this same sort of article again this season.