Wendell Moore Jr. leads Duke in win
Wendell Moore Jr. carried Duke in the second half to lead the Blue Devils past Appalachian State.
DURHAM, N.C. — Duke continued its re-acclimation to game action Thursday with a 92-67 victory over Appalachian State.
The win, however, did not come as easily as the score might indicate. The Mountaineers’ 6-5 record coming into tonight’s game might have given off the wrong impression - at least based on what we saw Thursday night in Durham.
Tonight’s App State team looked more similar to last season’s NCAA Tournament team than the one struggling to stay at or above .500.
In fact, it wasn’t until Duke went on a series of mini-runs late in the first half that the pending outcome became clearer. Most probably anticipated the lopsided win for the Blue Devils, however, most probably did not expect the first half battle that ensued.
“They were tough. I think the score is not indicative of the game,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “That was a really good game for us, because they played really well.”
“Hard fought win. We beat a good team. They’re a very good team.”
Sometimes such comments can be chalked up as coach speak. Rest assured, Krzyzewski was not praising Appalachian State for the sake of praising them.
The visitors’ play in the first half certainly backed that up with the teams exchanging the lead 11 times in the first 20 minutes. The Mountaineers led for a total of just 2:47, but the game was tightly fought for 15 minutes.
“He’s having, right now, an All-American year.” - Coach K on Wendell Moore Jr.
With the Blue Devils leading just 32-31 with 5:20 to go in the opening half, things began to come together for the Blue Devils. And it was a team-wide increase in production. Duke was finally asserting its will, and the result an 18-6 run to close out the half.
“Kind of gave us a little momentum going into the second half,” Wendell Moore Jr. said of his team’s run to closeout the opening half. “I know they came out and hit a couple shots early in the second half, but we kind of found it.”
The “couple” shots Moore is referring to was an 11-3 run that led Krzyzewski to call a timeout fewer than three minutes into the second half.
App State’s leading scorer entering the game, Adrian Delph, made two 3-pointers in the span of 42 seconds after going scoreless in the first half.
Krzyzewski’s timeout proved to be pivotal for the Blue Devils, as their 13-point lead had dwindled to just five.
As for the message: It was not specifically about better defense, but rather not handing away opportunities.
“Really just rebound, because we weren’t defensive rebounding at all,” Moore said of Krzyzewski’s message in the timeout. “They got two second chance shots that led to 3s, layups and that simply can’t happen for us.”
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the rebounding issue is not anything new. It has been a point of concern all season long.
And tonight, it was just as evident as it has been on most other nights. For the game, Duke was out-rebounded 31-30, but what’s problematic is how the rebounds are coming.
Appalachian State had 13 offensive rebounds that led to 19 second chance points. Those numbers come just two nights after South Carolina State rocked Duke for 21 offensive rebounds and 17 second chance points.
So, is defensive rebounding a concern? No doubt it is.
“The thing we are not doing is rebounding defensively,” Krzyzewski said. “When we rebound defensively that’s what leads to our fast break, more so than a turnover, because we have four ball handlers in the game. We can advance the ball very quickly and space the court.
“The defensive rebound actually can lead to the open three if we do it the right way, but we’ve got to do a better job of it. Part of it is we’re sometimes going too early or we anticipate someone else getting the ball. And we’re going this way instead of hands ready for the rebound.”
To that point, Duke’s 7-foot center Mark Williams finished the game with just four rebounds - three defensive - in nearly 24 minutes of game action. Paolo Banchero had six boards, with five coming on the defensive end of the floor in just over 30 minutes of playing time.
That’s 11 rebound between a 7-footer and a 6-foot-10 big man, who are drastically bigger and stronger than App State’s two biggest regular players — James Lewis Jr., who is 6-foot-8, 215 pounds and RJ Duhart, who is 6-foot-9, 205-pounds.
App State’s duo combined for six offensive rebounds.
Luckily for Duke, they rebounded much better after the initial punch from ASU in the second half, holding the Mountaineers to just four offensive rebounds in the final 17-plus minutes.
Duke’s offense took it from there.
“When it got down to five, they had the momentum of the game,” Krzyzewski said. “Then we responded. We have good players and they are really competitive guys. They’re not going to be afraid. We hit three 3s. Boom, boom, boom. We did it because we played defense and we got a runout. It wasn’t from a set offense. When we play like that, it’s really beautiful basketball.”
DÉJÀ VU — WENDELL MOORE JR. SHINES AGAIN
At this point it seems like we’re just a broken record. We’re here singing Moore’s praises yet again. But as crazy as it sounds, he seemingly gets better every game.
Tonight, he was outstanding yet again, scoring a game-high 20 points, while posting six assists and five rebounds. And to be honest, it’s really not clear what we can say at this point that we haven’t already said.
“He’s been our stud. Not only that, but he had (Adrian) Delph,” Krzyzewski noted. “He had that assignment. He’s doing that on offense, and he’s also doing it on defense. He’s having, right now, an All-American year.”
As for that assignment — yes Delph scored six quick points to open the second half, and 10 total for the game, all in the final 20 minutes — but Moore made life difficult for the Mountaineers leading scorer.
He held Delph to just 3-of-12 from the field (3-of-8) from 3-point range and ultimately forced App State to rely on other options offensively.
Even still, Krzyzewski wants to see more from from his star junior.
“I would like to see him shoot a little bit more. Tonight, early, we passed up rhythm shots. Paolo did and he did — like about four of them. There’s a rhythm to the game. The game is beautiful if you can develop a rhythm and then react to it.”
Duke’s bench came up big, particularly in the first half when it scored 19 of the Blue Devils 50 points.
A.J. Griffin, Joey Baker and Theo John each gave Duke huge performances when the game was tight through the first 15 minutes of action. Griffin put in the most minutes, just over nine, in the first half, and he put together a strong eight point effort.
John, who played just 4:36 in the first half made every single second count, bringing a new level of physicality to the game that essentially changed how the Blue Devils played the rest of the night.
He had six points and two boards in that short stint.
Baker was also effective, scoring five points in just barely over four minutes of action.
For the the game, Duke’s bench combined for 28 points — three of which came late from Jaylen Blakes. But by game’s end, Griffin had scored 11 points in 19 minutes of action, John six in 13 and Baker eight in just under 11 minutes of playing time.
“Having Theo back helps,” Krzyzewski said. “Their big guys kind of dominated with physicality early. And they were physical and good the whole game, but Theo gave us that physicality.
“A.J. and Joey are really good players. And we can sub more now. Joey has been a good player really the whole year. But I think he’s getting better and more athletic.
“And A.J.’s trajectory is like this (pointing upward). He’s still here (at a lower level), but it can go there (higher). But he still has to get in [better shape]. I thought in the second half when he plays extended minutes he gets tired.”