Saturday was not the best game that No. 18 Duke has played this season.
It’s hard to put that label on a game when a team shoots as poorly from the field (30.5%) as the Blue Devils did against Florida State.
It was, however, the most important game that Duke has put together this season, because the Blue Devils ran the Seminoles off of Coach K court, 78-56, despite the fact that they really did not play all that well offensively.
Let me put this into perspective: the Blue Devils win because they can score. They are the nation’s second-most efficient offense and win because of the matchup problems that they can create with their pair of uber-talented forwards, Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker.
But Parker and Hood combined to shoot 7-for-26 from the field, a torrid 26.9% clip. As a team, the Blue Devils looked completely ineffective going up against Florida State’s half-court defense, which typically would have been the recipe for disaster for the Blue Devils. Ask Clemson. That’s how the Tigers were able to knock off Duke.
The difference on Saturday was on the defensive end of the floor, particularly in the first half. Duke scored 29 points off of the 17 turnovers that they forced, a notable number for a team that ranks 73rd nationally in defensive efficiency and 140th in defensive turnover percentage. They looked like the Duke of old, pressuring out on the perimeter and forcing Florida State to start their offense 40 feet from the basket.
That’s not all. The Blue Devils grabbed 27 (!!!) offensive rebounds which they turned into 29 second-chance points. To put that in perspective, Duke’s offensive rebounding percentage on the season is 31.0%. On Saturday, it was 61.3%.
Also worth noting: Marshall Plumlee had his best game of the season, finishing with seven points and seven boards while bringing a toughness to the paint that quite clearly got under Florida State’s skin. And Parker? He may have shot 3-for-14 from the floor, but he set the tone in the first half with his aggressiveness going to the rim. It’s hard to call this a ‘slump-busting’ performance, but his struggles were rooted in the fact that he settled for too many jumpers.
That wasn’t the case Saturday.
As ugly as this was for Duke, this performance was very, very important.
There is simply too much talent on Coach K’s roster to struggle this much offensively for any extended period of time.
They’re not always going to force this many turnovers and they’re rarely going to have this kind of dominance on the offensive glass, but it’s inarguable that this is a trend in the right direction for Duke.
If they continue to bring this kind of effort defensively and on the glass, Syracuse won’t have a cakewalk to the ACC title.