Duke’s season opener ended in a win over Coppin State in Cameron Indoor, 81-71, and fans let out a sigh of relief. There were points to celebrate and points to improve upon for the Blue Devils. The score reflects a tenacious effort by the Eagles. Coach Juan Dixon and his team came with a plan and they executed. They forced turnovers, hit from everywhere on the three-ball, and took away opportunities. Duke, of course, had something to do with the close margin but showed some grit, too, especially at the end. They were never able to put away Coppin State even with some major chances. There’s a lot to unpack with this game.
Jalen Johnson has arrived, everybody. The freshman stood out from the crowd, going for 19 points and 19 rebounds, and no, that’s not a typo. This too: he quite literally did not miss at 8-8 from the field. He was one of two shining stars for the game on our side and he showed everyone why he was so highly touted coming into college. He had 4 blocks, and I mean athletic backboard-slap blocks, too. Last, he led the team with 5 assists. That statline was accompanied by 7 turnovers, which is characteristic for a freshman but is concerning. Hopefully he can overcome that, because when he does, he’ll be unstoppable.
The surprise for this game was DJ Steward. Also a freshman, he was the game’s highest scorer with 24 points. He came off the bench and wasn’t predicted as a big scorer, but he showed out. He was impressively efficient, too, shooting 55% from the field and 44% from three. His debut ranks fourth in points scored by a Duke freshman out the gate, behind RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Marvin Bagley III. DJ Steward is among impressive company. But he, too, struggled with turnovers, marking 3 on the game, and that’s definitely a team mishap that we’ll get to later.
Turnovers. This game was a nightmare on ball maintenance. That’s a big reason for the thin margin in a season opener. Duke had 22 turnovers. Coach K was dismayed throughout the game. Tre Jones departed for the NBA after last season. He was a big reason why last year’s team was so secure in half-court offense. Without him, veterans like Jordan Goldwire and Joey Baker weren’t able to right the ship. Coppin State capitalized on our mistakes by scoring 28 off of It’s certainly something that the guys will need to work on.
Perimeter defense was not outstanding and Coppin State had a lot to do with that. In the second half, they shot 43.8% from three as a team. They hit 10 on the game, 7 of which came in the second half. Koby Thomas of the Eagles was 75% from three. Timely threes were a big reason why they just wouldn’t go away all game long, and Duke didn’t stop it til the last sixty seconds. Later this season, ACC Play will have no shortage of quality shooting teams, so Duke will have to overcome.
Overall, it was a big learning game, from a relatively close game situation (in what should’ve been a low pressure game) to turnovers galore. They’re a young team (no different from the last 6 years) so it’ll be a challenge, but we’re hoping they can pull together and keep up the energy.
Next game is Michigan State in the Champions’ Classic. MSU is without veteran Cassius Winston but certainly not without talent, and are ranked #9 in the country. The game will be in Durham.
Good win today to kick off the season. Bleed blue.