In each of their first eight games of the season No. 2 Duke managed to take good care of the basketball, committing no more than 12 turnovers in any game and tallying more assists than turnovers in each of those contests. However in the last two games the Blue Devils have committed a total of 36 turnovers, with 19 coming Thursday night in their 66-56 win over UConn at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Duke was able to hold off a formidable UConn team by taking care of business in other areas, most notably the offensive glass. Despite the best efforts of Kentan Facey (14 points, nine rebounds) the Huskies could not keep Duke off of the offensive glass, as the Blue Devils managed to grab 14 offensive rebounds.
Duke corralled 40 percent of its missed shots Thursday night, and while the Blue Devils enjoyed just a three-point edge in second-chance points (13-10) the work of Amile Jefferson and Jahlil Okafor (seven offensive rebounds combined) took its toll on a team that played most of the game with its most imposing interior player (Amida Brimah) saddled with foul trouble. The second chances may not have paid off in the form of points but they did affect the foul count, as UConn committed 24 personal fouls and Duke attempted 34 free throws.
What’s also taken its toll on Duke’s opponents this season is the task of defending Okafor, who through ten games has cemented himself as a national Player of the Year candidate.
With Okafor in the middle Duke has a big man their other four pieces can play off of, as he’s proven to be an adept passer out of double teams. Okafor finished Thursday’s game with just two assists, but there were also occasions in which his pass out of trouble made it possible for the Blue Devils to make the next pass for a solid look. And with there being few big men in college basketball capable of defending him without help, that’s an important attribute for Okafor moving forward.
Classmates Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow were also key figures against UConn, with Jones accounting for 21 points, five rebounds and three assists on the night. His ability to work together with senior Quinn Cook has been one of the biggest stories of the season to date, as Cook has performed well off the ball and Jones has played his best basketball in Duke’s most important games (Michigan State, Wisconsin and UConn). Cook was solid defensively for the Blue Devils, defending Ryan Boatright for much of the night with UConn’s leader committing five turnovers to go along with his 22 points and seven rebounds
As for Winslow his versatility as a defender allows him to defend multiple positions, which is something opponents have to account for in planning for Duke. Duke’s starting five was productive against UConn, but even with that being the care there are areas in which they can stand to improve.
As noted above Duke hasn’t taken good care of the basketball in their last two games, and at times they struggled when UConn ramped up the pressure defensively. Duke’s also going to need more production from their bench than the zero points they received, with Rasheed Sulaimon accounting for five turnovers in 17 minutes of action. Duke has players capable of contributing off the bench, but consistency will be key for the reserves moving forward.
Thursday’s win wasn’t the prettiest for Duke, but even with the turnovers and 37.5% shooting from the field the Blue Devils found a way to take advantage of other areas. And that’s something they can build upon as the start of ACC approaches.