Film Session: How Duke took away Marcus Paige and Jerian Grant

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source: Getty Images
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The questions about whether or not Duke is truly a national title contender began to pop up early on in ACC play, when the Blue Devils got smacked around in back-to-back games games N.C. State and Miami, the latter at home.

The concern?

The perimeter defense of the Blue Devils. Trevor Lacey and Angel Rodriguez torched the Blue Devils so badly that head coach Mike Krzyzewski was forced to go zone against Louisville, a move surprising enough that it caught the Cardinals off-guard and allowed the Blue Devils to pick up an impressive road win.

But one game didn’t solve the issue of Duke’s ability to defender talented playmakers and ball-screen actions, and that became far too obvious a couple of weeks later, when Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant played his best game of the season, taking over down the stretch as the Irish erased a 10 point deficit in the final eight minutes of a 77-73 win.

That loss feels like decades ago, as Duke has since reeled off six straight wins, going into Charlottesville and handing Virginia their only loss of the season, beating Syracuse on the road and, on Wednesday night, knocking off North Carolina in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

What’s perhaps more impressive is that in three of their last four games, Duke has been able to completely take away an opponent’s talented lead guard. In the rematch in Durham, Grant had seven points on 3-for-10 shooting as the Irish lost by 30. In a three-point Duke win at Florida State, Xavier Rathan-Mayes finished with five points and six turnovers on 2-for-7 shooting. And in the win over UNC, Marcus Paige had just five points and shot 2-for-11 from the floor.

How has Duke been able to transform from a team that couldn’t stop any star guard to one that shuts down All-Americans?

The credit belongs to Quinn Cook, who has taken on the role of defensive stopper for the Blue Devils.

In each of those three games, Mike Krzyzewski had Cook face-guard the opponents’ star guard for 40 minutes. If they brought the ball up the floor, Cook was un their jock as soon as they passed the ball and initiated offense. If they played off the ball, he was denying the catch as soon as they crossed half court. Watch him defend Grant on this possession:

It was the same thing for Paige last night.

Here’s an example from the first half, where North Carolina tried to free their star up by running him off of a series of screens along the baseline. Cook got hung up on one of them, but he called for a switch with Matt Jones, who took over denying Paige and preventing from getting a look coming off of that screen:

Now compare that with how easy it was for Jerian Grant to receive the ball here:

That kind of denial defense does have repercussions, however, as it creates quite a bit of space in the middle of the floor. North Carolina was able to capitalize, with Nate Britt, Joel Berry and J.P. Tokoto breaking down the defense off the bounce, creating opportunities for their big men with drop-off passes, one-on-one opportunities in the post and the chance to pound the offensive glass.

North Carolina didn’t get a single offensive rebound in the first 11:37 of the game. Over the course of the next 33 minutes, they grabbed 19 offensive rebounds and scored 21 second-chance points. Their big men — Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks and Joel James — combined for 54 points and 27 boards on 23-for-33 shooting.

To be fair, part of that was the result of Okafor, who is a below-average defender when he is healthy, being slowed by an ankle injury that he suffered in the first half.

But not all of it.

Here’s my favorite example of what I mean. In the first clip, you’ll see Paige setting a back-screen for Hicks. Cook is hugging Paige, leaving Hicks wide-open to catch a lob for a dunk. In the second, you’ll see Tokoto set a back-screen. Matt Jones is guarding him and is able sink towards the rim and takeaway the pass:

The Blue Devils still have their issues defensively. They’re not great defending ball-screens, their perimeter defenders are, individually, mediocre on-the-ball. Okafor is a long way away from being Anthony Davis or Tyson Chandler.

But Krzyzewski has proven why he’s one of the greatest to ever grace the sideline this season, as he’s been able to put together a defensive schemes that have put his guys in a position to win.

He did it at Louisville. He did in against Notre Dame. And last night, he did it again against North Carolina.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.