DURHAM, N.C. -- The saying goes if you can't say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. So here’s something nice about Notre Dame’s first-half performance at Duke on Saturday: the Fighting Irish did lead the game 6-0 a little over a minute into the game.
Then, the Blue Devils went on a run that can hardly even be called a run because they outscored Notre Dame 43 to seven. Duke shot 81 percent in the first half, hit seven of its eight three-pointers and had an effective field goal percentage of 97.6. This all occurred with Jahlil Okfaor sitting the final 12 minutes after picking up two quick fouls in succession.
The final score of 90-60 indicates an impressive win over the 10th ranked team in the nation and shows just how dangerous Duke can be when it is completely focused and operating at peak efficiency. Duke had plenty of motivation to be focused after the loss to the Irish on Jan. 28.
“In a one like that I always look at the stat sheet to make sure it only counted [as] one loss,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “Because that was a thorough beating.”
What a difference a little over a week makes. In South Bend, Jerian Grant did it all, scoring 23 points and picking up 12 assists as the Irish beat Duke. Against the Blue Devils, he seemed clearly bothered by Quinn Cook’s defense, and didn’t hit a shot until there were 16 minutes left in the second half. He finished 3-of-10 from the floor for seven points and hit only one of his seven free throws.
Even with freshmen logging so many minutes for the Blue Devils, there are stretches where Duke truly looks like a Final Four team, and this game as a whole serves as a proper audition tape for why.
“We have not executed that way in a long time on both ends,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It was almost perfect, you know. It was so good. It was just so good.”
Duke spaced the floor extremely well, got production from its bench, dashed out in transition for easy looks (something the Blue Devils did remarkably well against Virginia last week as well) and made the extra pass.
Couple that with Justise Winslow’s re-emergence, and it’s not out of the question to think the Blue Devils haven’t peaked.
The freshman was explosive on his drives and got to the rim with confidence. He got after it on the glass. And he had a chase down block in the second half that was downright filthy. Winslow hit a lull and was battling injuries for a stretch earlier in conference play, but as of now, he’s never looked better.
“He can bring that every night and even more,” Okafor said. “We’re hard to beat when Justise is doing his thing.”
Winslow even admitted he’s been more in attack mode recently, and he’s making a concerted effort to get to the lane.
“It just finally kind of hit me that I can get in the paint at will pretty much,” Winslow said. “So that’s what I’ve been trying to do lately.”
With his athleticism and ability, Winslow is clearly key to Duke’s potential success in March, and games like the one he had against Notre Dame show what he can do when he’s locked in.
Okafor is going to get his points -- he had 20 in just 23 minutes against the Fighting Irish -- but the balance from the rest of the Duke team has to be a welcome sign for Krzyzewski. At any given time, Tyus Jones (who fans have taken to calling Tyus Stones for his frequent big shots) can go off, or Cook and Matt Jones (who had 17 points in the win) can hit from deep.
Between the ruckus of the Coach K’s 1,000th win, dismissing Rasheed Sulaimon, the GameDay atmosphere at Virginia and the two matchups against Notre Dame, it’s been a lot for a young team to handle. But Krzyzewski believes his Blue Devils can gain something from those unique experiences.
“There’s no question our team has grown,” Krzyzewski said. “I think I’ve mentioned this many times, at least a number of times. We need to go through a lot of experiences. We don’t know what those experiences will end up being. A loss, a win, or whatever, because four of our eight guys are freshmen. You have to grow up by being in that, or you lose.”
Before the game, the Blue Devils players watched a video of memorable home wins, and Okafor said that Coach K challenged the team to get a signature Cameron win.
The beatdown of Notre Dame on Saturday certainly qualifies. If Duke keeps playing like this, it might be just one moment in what could ultimately become a signature season as well.