NEW YORK — Cassius Stanley scored 20 of his 21 points in the second half and Wendell Moore chipped in with 11 of his 17 as No. 1 Duke erased an 11 point first half deficit to knock off a feisty Georgetown team, 81-73, in the finals of the 2K Classic.
Stanley chipped in with eight rebounds and the pair combined to make all four of their threes in the win.
Vernon Carey paced Duke in the first half, scoring 16 of his 20 points, and finished with 10 boards as well.
Here are three things we can take away from the game:
1. DUKE IS DISCOVERING WHAT THEY HAVE IN VERNON CAREY
There was some skepticism coming into the season about just how good of a player and a prospect Vernon Carey was going to be.
How he fits in the modern NBA is certainly something that will be worth discussing down the road, but in the present – in terms of Duke basketball and the 2019-20 season – Carey is proving himself as one of, if not the dominant big man in college basketball.
On Friday night, he put Duke on his shoulders and carried the Blue Devils through Georgetown’s first half surge. Duke dug themselves a 29-18 hole late in the first half, and Carey had 12 of those 18 points. He scored 16 of his 20 points in the first half. This came a night after he popped off for 31 points, 12 boards and four blocks against Cal.
He’s making threes. He’s moving his feet better on the perimeter than anyone expected. He’s showing himself to be, at the very least, an adequate rim protector. And he is an absolute behemoth when he gets the ball eight feet from the rim with a defender on his hip.
“When we recruited him, everyone said he didn’t have a motor and was just a big guy,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “I always thought he was a really good basketball player that had to learn how to run and play hard. He had a great attitude. Every day he works with us and Nate James. He’s invested, and he has finesse, too. He has good feet. He’s not just a big guy, he is a good basketball player.
“He’s better than I thought. He’s a really good competitor and he shows poise. He checks a lot of boxes. [Marvin] Bagley was more of a power forward, [Jahlil Okafor] was a center and this kid is a little bit of both. He’s a really good player and a helluva teammate.”
Tre Jones is the leader for this team and, maybe, the most important player in all of college basketball. Cassius Stanley has been a pleasant surprise, and Wendell Moore played the best game of his young career on Friday despite the fact that he turned the ball over seven times.
There’s more to this roster than some of us realized in the preseason.
But Carey is the anchor, the star that an offense can be built around.
And he’s only going to get better.
2. GEORGETOWN MADE A STATEMENT IN NEW YORK CITY
It comes in waves with the Hoyas.
There are times where it looks like they could end up being the worst team in the Big East. Then they’ll go on a run where it looks like they’re going to end up getting to the Final Four.
We’ve seen it in just about every game they have played this year.
Against Mount St. Mary’s, they dug themselves a 19-point second half hole before winning fairly easily. They needed a late run against Georgia State to win. Then, after a sluggish first half against Texas, the Hoyas spent the second 20 minutes looking like the Georgetown of yesteryear, like John Thompson Jr. was on the sideline with a towel over his shoulder as Patrick Ewing swatted shots into the second deck. That run continued for the first 15 minutes against Duke.
It came in flashes, but in those flashes we saw just how good Georgetown has the potential to be this year.
“This whole trip is something that we can build on,” Ewing said. “Everyone that we have on our team is capable of playing and playing well. We went toe to toe with the No. 1 team in the country and had an opportunity to win the ball game. We beat the No. 22 team yesterday. I think that our future is bright.
“We’re improving. It’s an ongoing process. We’re getting better every day, every week. We have a lot of talent on this team. It takes a while to get. I think we’re still going through that process.”
What Ewing has at his disposal is a team with length and athleticism everywhere that is bookended by good guard play and great post play. When he can stay out of foul trouble, Omer Yurtseven is the best low-post scorer in college basketball. He played six minutes in the first half on Friday because of fouls. He didn’t have foul issues in the second half and scored 21 points. James Akinjo is still learning how to be a point guard, and there are things that you can tell drive Ewing crazy, but he is as tough and as talented as anyone at the lead guard spot in the Big East.
The x-factor is the seemingly never-ending string of long, athletic wings Ewing has. Jamorko Pickett, Galen Alexander, Josh LeBlanc, Myron Gardner, Jagan Mosley. They play hard, they play tough and they thrive in the helter-skelter, pressing style that Ewing seems to prefer.
We’ll see what Georgetown’s ceiling ends up being this season, but the thing Ewing said on Friday that I agree with more than anything is this: “At the end of the year there’s going to be a lot of teams that don’t want to play us.”
3. MATTHEW HURT’S PLAYING TIME DISAPPEARED IN THIS GAME
Matthew Hurt was a five-star, top ten recruit that was a projected first round pick and enrolled at Duke with the expectation that he could end up being the leading scorer for this team and the ideal fit alongside Carey at the four.
On Friday night, he played just five minutes, he did not get off the bench in the second half and went scoreless. This came one night after he scored all nine of his points against Cal in the final eight minutes of a 35 point win.
It begs the question: What in the world is going on here?
“Jack White was playing better,” Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. White finished with just five points, but he added three boards and three assists. He also led the Blue Devils with in +/- at plus-20.
The easy answer here is that this was just not the matchup for Hurt, who is a slow-footed stretch-four that is not exactly known for his strength or his toughness. The length and athleticism on Georgetown’s roster made White the better fit for this game.
But reading the tea leaves, there may also be more at play. Duke is a team that is going to be built on their defense this season.
“We felt starting practice that we could be food defensively with Tre there and with our depth,” Coach K said. “We’ve really devoted most of our practice to defense, and as a result we’ve gotten tougher and we’ve learned to play defense. We have also spent a lot of time on rebounding.”
Those two things are their foundation. Their strength. And they are also the weakness in Hurt’s game. His value is his ability to space the floor and stretch defenses, creating room for Carey to work in the paint, but Carey had the best two games of his college career this week in the Garden and Hurt was barely involved. If Moore is going to play the way he did Friday and Stanley is going to consistently knock down open threes, then Hurt’s shooting is not as valuable and his defensive frailty makes him a net-negative.
The caveat here is that it is the fifth game of five month season.
There is plenty of time for Hurt to develop into a valuable contributor. We knew that Duke’s roster makeup meant that they were going to be a team that is going to change based on matchup as well. It’s too early to make any grand proclamations at this point.
But it will be something that is worth monitoring for the rest of the season.