With their lack of depth, No. 9 Duke is bound to have some issues to navigate on the defensive end of the floor. With just one dependable big man in Marshall Plumlee with Amile Jefferson still out with a foot injury, there’s only so much the Blue Devils can do when faced with a productive big man. Against Notre Dame that “big” man was 6-foot-5 power forward Bonzie Colson, who came off the bench and put forth the best performance of his career in a 95-91 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Colson scored a career-high 31 points, shooting 12-for-19 from the field, and also grabbing 11 rebounds. Colson was effective setting screens for the Notre Dame guards, most notably Demetrius Jackson, and either rolling to the basket or popping out for perimeter shot opportunities. But where both he and Zach Auguste, who finished with nine points (would have been more if not for his issues finishing around the basket) and 14 rebounds, hurt Duke the most was on the offensive glass.
Eight of Colson’s 11 rebounds came on the offensive end, and the Notre Dame front court tandem combined to grab 12 of the team’s 16 offensive rebounds. Those were converted into 18 second chance points, a key reason why Notre Dame attempted 16 more field goals. And for a team that lacks depth as Duke does, that extra time spent defending can add up by game’s end.
So what can Duke do at this point, with the timetable for Jefferson’s return still being undefined? Most likely, they’ll have to ask for even more from already productive players such as Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen.
In theory a coach would like to be able to look down the bench and grab another big man capable of helping out for a few minutes here and there. But neither Chase Jeter nor Sean Obi have shown themselves capable of doing so to this point in the season. That leaves Mike Krzyzewski stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to his rotation. Plumlee finished with eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks, doing a good job of making many of Auguste’s attempts around the basket difficult, and Luke Kennard chipped in with eight rebounds in addition to his career-high 30 points.
But with just one bonafide big man, closing out possessions and defending ball screens will be tough for Duke, which has looked to mix in some zone in recent games. If Duke is to remain part of the ACC race until Jefferson returns, the guards will have to contribute even more on the glass. And even if that does happen, it may not be enough as Duke doesn’t have a big man capable of defending ball screens at Jefferson’s level.