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Duke Basketball
(Photo by Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports)

Blue Review: A 2021-22 Duke Basketball Recap – Game 20 vs Louisville

Duke Basketball
AJ Griffin matched his career high of 22 points during a spectacular shooting display in Duke Basketball’s 74-65 win over Louisville on Saturday. (Photo by Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports)

Blue Review: A 2021-22 Duke Basketball Recap – Game 20 vs Louisville

Duke Basketball entered the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday with expectations of a blowout victory on the horizon. I mean, why shouldn’t they? The Blue Devils were the No. 9 team in the country playing a .500 ACC opponent that is in so much disarray, a paragraph detailing their struggles wouldn’t suffice. Duke has, depending on the person you ask, the best freshman in the country. They have five potential first round draft picks and the greatest coach to grace college hoops. Louisville, meanwhile, mutually parted ways with coach Chris Mack mid-week and had lost five of their last six games.

And a quick glance at the scoreboard midway through the first half would’ve led you to the same realization. The Blue Devils, in a rather offensively balanced display, had opened up a 24-8 lead. The crowd was quieted, a rout seemed almost inevitable. But to the Cards’ credit, they battled back. After Duke center Mark Williams went to the bench with two personal fouls, Louisville turned the page. Just as quickly as the Blue Devils had built the lead, it had evaporated nearly as fast. A semi-desperation heave from freshman A.J. Griffin that found the bottom of the net at the first half buzzer gave Duke a much-needed 40-35 lead at halftime.

The second half opened in similar fashion. The pair of legendary programs exchanged blows for 60 percent of the period. Just as it seemed the Blue Devils were going to tear the game wide open; the Cardinals would stymie the momentum. That is, until the under-eight media timeout. At that moment, Duke and Louisville were tied at 60 a piece. Blue Devil co-captain Wendell Moore Jr. stepped to the line for a pair of free throws. He made one of two and repeated the sequence a couple of possessions later. It was a poor showing from the charity stripe for Mike Krzyzewski’s squad – they were 8-18 from the line. But a pair of AJ Griffin 3-pointers provided Duke with the spark it needed to close out the game. From there, including a pair of monstrous blocks from Williams and Paolo Banchero, and the Blue Devils (17-3, 7-2 ACC) held on to win 74-65.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the A.J. Griffin show

Gather round folks, because I’m going to tell you about the time that AJ Griffin outshone JJ Redick, Jayson Tatum and Gary Trent Jr.’s single-game freshman shooting statistics. The Archbishop Stepinac product became the first Blue Devil freshman to shoot 100% from 3-point range on a minimum of five attempts. Griffin was 5-for-5 from beyond the arc and tied his career high with 22 points. He was superb. While of late he has somewhat floated in and out of games offensively, his ability to knock down shots from the perimeter will continue to increase the ceiling of this Duke Basketball squad.

“He’s had games like this, but they’ve been at home or a neutral site,” Krzyzewski said of Griffin’s performance. “He’s just a rising star, he’s not a rising good player, he’s a rising star and all our guys realize that and so the amount of attention that Paolo (Banchero) gets, or Wendell (Moore Jr.), helps him. The last couple of games he hasn’t shot like that, so they’re trying to stop those guys and all of a sudden, he’s open and the good thing is the guys look for him. He’s never nervous and he loves to play.”

VIA Duke Athletics/goduke.com

Griffin now averages almost nine points per game, but his ability to space the floor for a Duke side with a bunch of guys that like to get to the rim is essential, especially in Trevor Keels’ absence. Griffin will continue to blossom into the projected lottery pick he is, and it’s an exciting team for a squad that now has four or five guys who can go and get you 15+ on any given day.

Keels absence means heavy minutes for Moore and Roach

The headline sums it up, but with Keels still sidelined, the backcourt of Moore and Roach have been on the court for virtually all 40 minutes in the games he’s missed. Now, this isn’t to say that Moore and Roach being in the lineup is a hinderance this squad – it isn’t in any way imaginable. The pair combined for 10 of Duke’s 15 assists. But the backcourt is stretched extra thin without a third ball handler and creator in Keels.

It was evident yesterday, especially with both Moore and Roach totaling 38 minutes of action, that the pair were fatigued. Freshman guard Jaylen Blakes seem to be a good plug and play guy, but Krzyzewski clearly doesn’t trust him yet in those close ACC brawls. Banchero can somewhat fill the void, but he’s always hunting for his own shot. And Joey Baker is an off the ball threat.

Duke’s depth and rotation is as short as ever, and since Keels has yet to be cleared, I wonder if/when the lack of rest eventually handicaps Moore or Roach.

Duke and big, early leads have yet to result in big, late game victories

The Blue Devils have had a propensity so far this season to stretch out almost gargantuan leads against opponents early in the first half, only to see the game tighten up as it wears along. Maybe they’re both a victim of a young squad and a small bench, but Duke is making a habit of letting teams back into games.

It’s somewhat infuriating too, that Duke Basketball can’t seem to just step on the throats of inferior opponents. It’s good that they have been able to close games, for most the part, but the Blue Devils need to do a better job of putting the hammer down when they have teams with their backs against the wall.

Matchups against Notre Dame, UNC and Virginia on the horizon will serve as good indication of whether this Duke Basketball squad has the ability to get out of the gates early and leave their opponents in the rearview mirror.

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