First of all, I’d like to apologize. I’ve been absent of late as I’ve been sick all week and in my schedule I’ve just been quite off in the past few days. I’m not a professional blogger and I do have to go to school, so I usually do my blogging in the early morning and that wasn’t available to me under my conditions. I’m sorry to have been absent but hopefully I’ll be able to stay healthy and continue my season coverage.
First of all, Duke did fall to the Tar Heels in Cameron by a score of 88-72, but not without one 6 foot 7 inch hole: yes, Zion Williamson is injured. It’s not as bad as initially feared: it’s a Grade 1 knee sprain, meaning his MCL is less than 25% torn. As the MCL could have been completely torn it’s certainly a relief for both Duke and Zion, who’s counting on his name being called #1 at the NBA Draft this year. Zion’s injury is huge news worldwide and our #1 concern currently.
Now, on to the Syracuse game. This was a very impassioned game on the Orange’s side as longtime coach Jim Boeheim returned after Wednesday’s car accident that killed Jorge Jiminez after Syracuse’s win at Louisville. Boeheim was visibly emotional when he was introduced to a standing ovation given by the largest crowd, over 35,000, in college basketball history. Coach K spoke on the incident later on:
Such an emotional time because Jim has created a program here and a family. Going through this situation, the whole family goes through it, and I could feel it, it felt so good for him. The outpouring of emotion was so good. I mean, he’s my dear friend, and I was able to spend a few minutes with him before the game. He looks strong, and I’m glad he coached.Mike Krzyzewski
Between that, the incredibly huge crowd, and Zion’s absence (he did not play), a young Duke squad was vulnerable to distraction. Duke did, however, take care of business on the road for a ten point win at the Carrier Dome. RJ Barrett scored 30 points, but the big story scoring-wise in the second half was Alex O’Connell. Alex got hot and shot 5-8 from deep to go for a career-high 20 points, including a 4-point play that kept Duke from falling behind late in the first half. It was something that changed the flow of Duke’s offense because as Syracuse was forced to guard Alex closely, that opened holes in the zone for other players to get their shot. RJ could not be stopped in the middle of the 2-3; it’s just uncommon that you find a player that can do that kind of thing.
The defense did well enough with the exception of the last part where you rebound it. We were just killed on the boards, allowing 19 offensive rebounds and 19 second-chance points to match. Too many times it felt like the ball just slipped through someone’s hands; being strong to and with the ball will be a focus for the next couple days as we prepare for a gritty Virginia Tech team that’s got the big men to hurt you in the paint with those rebounds.
A big development in this game was the sudden entry of Joey Baker. Baker reclassified late to play with this year’s team and it was expected that he’d redshirt as he had not played 26 games into the season. Coach K is apparently looking for perimeter shooting; Baker is his guy. The move has been somewhat criticized but I trust Coach. Joey is a 6-7 forward but is mostly known as a sharpshooter; as mentioned earlier, the more outside threats we have, the more space RJ has to operate on the inside. He killed the inside of that 2-3 and Alex knocked down shots when the zone collapsed on RJ.
Bleed blue. Our schedule is mean: Zion’s unlikely to play on Tuesday and we have to turn around for another road game in Blacksburg. Fun.