During Duke’s five-game win streak after a sluggish 1-2 start in the ACC one thing, in particular, has continued to improve for the Blue Devils: Half-court defense. That defense continued to show steady signs of improvement on Monday as No. 17 Duke controlled the second half and slowed down No. 18 Pitt on its way to an 80-65 ACC road win at Peterson Events Center.
Jabari Parker scored 16 of his 21 points in a great first half for the freshman and Andre Dawkins added 20 points on 6-for-7 shooting from beyond the three-point line, but this game was more about Duke’s improved half-court defense than their efficient half-court offense.
During a 10-possession defensive stretch in the second half, Duke pushed its lead to 64-51 with a little over five minutes remaining as the Blue Devils held Pitt to 0-for-8 shooting from the field and two turnovers during that stretch.
The Blue Devils have allowed an average of 58.4 points against them during the five-game winning streak after allowing 69.3 points against them during the 1-2 start in the ACC and much of it has to do with finding more of a consistent rotation and getting maximum defensive effort on a more consistent basis.
Although Jabari Parker still has work to do on the defensive end, he has gotten better on rotations and help defense. Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson are giving good interior minutes defending the paint and rebounding. Rasheed Sulaimon is out of his early-season slump and getting more minutes, meaning Duke is adding another aggressive and athletic perimeter defender into the equation.
Duke still has to work on transition defense and other minor nuances of help defense, but the way they limited Pitt senior Lamar Patterson tonight was impressive. Duke did a nice job making sure Patterson didn’t get comfortable roaming off of high ball screens and their hedges and help rotations were noticeably better than early in January.
The Duke of a month ago wouldn’t have held Patterson to 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting, but this Blue Devils team is starting to forge a stronger identity on the defensive end and it gives Duke a chance in the ACC if they can win against Syracuse.