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(Photo by Gerry Broome / Associated Press)

Blue Review: A 2021-22 Duke Basketball Recap – Game 16 vs NC State

Duke Basketball
Mark Williams had a career night (19 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks) and Paolo Banchero (21 points and eight rebounds) starred as Duke Basketball – relatively – rolled to an 88-73 win over NC State. (Photo by Gerry Broome / Associated Press / AP Photo)

Blue Review: A 2021-22 Duke Basketball Recap – Game 16 vs NC State

On a day where the blue bloods of college hoops – Kentucky and Kansas in particular – played up to their preseason billings, Duke Basketball had moments of excellence too. It wasn’t a perfect performance in the Blue Devils’ 88-73 win over in-state rival NC State, but a win is a win in ACC play. Despite some box score blemishes, Duke’s big man trio of Mark Williams, Paolo Banchero and Theo John starred against a depleted Wolfpack frontcourt, minus stalwart center Manny Bates who’s out for the season with an injury.

Regardless of Bates’ absence, Williams and Banchero filled up the stat sheet. Williams notched 19 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high eight blocks, coupled with Banchero’s game-high 21 points, eight rebounds and four assists. The pair were prolific in the Blue Devils’ first game where they truly coalesced for a great performance.

“We beat a really good team,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They’re good and I thought overall we did a good job on them defensively … The weak point of our game was the offensive rebounds against us. However, you’re going to give some up … we limited their threes, limited penetration, but it’s difficult to limit everything.”

VIA Duke Athletics/goduke.com

“Our big guys were terrific,” Krzyzewski said. “Mark (Williams) almost had a triple-double. Theo (John) really contributed well in the first half when we got a little lead … Paolo (Banchero) played his normally solid game and at the end, I thought we tried something that we haven’t worked on much with five guards and Paolo being a point center. I thought we close the game out well. A good win for us.”

VIA Duke Athletics/goduke.com

Duke remains in their post-COVID pause reality, so their footing, according to Krzyzewski, is a continual work in progress. Still, though, a fairly comfortable win against NC State in the heart of ACC play is always a welcomed sight for the Blue Devils (14-2, 4-1 ACC). Let’s get into some takeaways from the game.

Trevor Keels impresses as lead guard

With the introduction of A.J. Griffin into the starting lineup, Keels has had more of an opportunity to run the offense — and he did so exceptionally on Saturday. The freshman guard recorded a season-high nine assists with an even more impressive zero turnovers. The Paul VI product was expected to accept lead guard responsibilities for the Blue Devils following his stellar Kentucky performance. That hasn’t been the case, with junior wing Wendell Moore Jr. stepping into the role of primary playmaker. Both Moore and Keels can initiate the offense effectively, and when one struggles, the other one can immediately pick it up and go.

Coach K seems to agree.

“(Keels is) a very smart player and he’s strong with the ball,” Krzyzewski said. “He can get in certain positions and make passes because of his strength. I think he’s getting sharper, and he had a terrific game for us tonight.”

VIA Duke Athletics/goduke.com

Wendell Moore Jr. hasn’t returned to his pre-pause self, and that’s okay – for now

Moore was Duke’s most important player, and arguably their most impressive, from November to December. The 6-foot-5 wing found himself in many National Player of the Year conversations and with lots of shouts for ACC Player of the Year too. While some of those nominations have quieted, his importance to this squad has remained the same. He is still the Blue Devils’ primary defender, taking the No. 1 assignment for nearly every game. He scored a quiet 15 points on an efficient 6-for-8 shooting from the field and 3-for-3 from the charity stripe against NC State.

Moore’s emergence this season has been immense, and an inevitable return to his pre-pause self will pay unbelievable dividends for this team. Regardless, the co-captain is a team-first guy, and while his one assist to four turnovers against the Wolfpack is concerning, he’s earned the right to some leeway.

Also, this is a hilariously bad take. It had to be included, because it’s a worst take than my recent blunder surrounding Wake Forest’s Alondes Williams’ passing.

Williams shows up in big ways (pun intended)

Williams was a projected All-ACC member by much of the media leading into the season. In regard to the lofty expectations, he’s underwhelmed. But truthfully, he’s been a productive piece, whose impact has been limited by some of Duke’s opponents. Regardless, the 7-footer entered the matchup against the Wolfpack averaging 8.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game. Inevitably, those numbers will climb after his stellar performance. He rebounded well, dominated on the interior and blocked a plethora of shots — all things expected of him. The IMG Academy product also had an impressive assist to frontcourt mate Banchero.

In his postgame presser, Williams expressed his optimism about both his own run of form and the team’s.

“I think we really stressed the importance of protecting the rim today. [NC State is] a team that likes to drive to the basket a lot, so I think that was just something to really focus on today. I think Trevor [Keels] had like nine assists – he was finding me a lot in good spots on the floor and I was able to convert. On the offensive glass, being able to give our team extra possessions was important.”

VIA Duke Athletics/goduke.com

“I think we’re starting to get back into a rhythm again. We had the COVID-19 pause and we’re just getting back into a flow.”

VIA Duke Athletics/goduke.com

While Duke doesn’t need Banchero, Moore, Williams, Keels, Griffin and Jeremy Roach to be prolific every night to win games, Saturday showed it certainly doesn’t hurt.

***

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