Duke Basketball
After a dismal first-half showing, Duke basketball pulled away from Lafayette, winning 88-55. This team is 5-0 and starting to find form. (Photo by Chris Seward/AP Photo)

Blue Review: A 2021-22 Duke Basketball Recap – Game 5 vs Lafayette

Five games, five wins for Duke basketball. It was an ugly and frustrating first half for the Blue Devils, but behind the efforts of Wendell Moore Jr., Mark Williams and A.J. Griffin, the team finally pulled away from the Lafayette Leopards to win 88-55.

The first half was, in a word, sloppy. There were uncharacteristic turnovers, bad transition playmaking and stretches where shots just weren’t falling. And, listen, that’s bound to happen in games. But when the Leopards went to a 2-3 zone – a defensive scheme that past Duke basketball teams have struggled with – the newest batch of Blue Devils began to settle for jumpers.

This is a winless Leopards squad that dropped back into a zone without much length and held Duke to 32 points in the first half. The announcers and I were banging our heads at the lack of initiative to get a Blue Devil at the high post and work the ball in that way. Because, inevitably, when you get the guy in the center of the zone, the defense collapses, opening up not only wing and corner threes, but also dump off passes for the center sitting at the low block.

Granted, the team did capitalize on some possessions where they found Williams down low and he simply bullied his way to a made basket. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was the recipe for success.

In the second half, the game just opened up. Behind a really strong opening six or seven minutes from Williams and Moore, Duke extended its lead and it was smooth sailing from there. Everyone was getting open looks and knocking them down. This squad’s depth also shown with the bench scoring 30 points. Let’s get into some of the key takeaways.

Wendell Moore has made mo(o)re than a leap

Enjoy my dad joke there, but Moore is night in and night out illustrating his importance to this team. With Paolo Banchero and Trevor Keels struggling, it was Moore who got things going offensively.

In the second half, Moore had his own 8-3 run that started with a fast break and-1 lay-up, then it was a pull-up mid-range jumper and finally a top of the key three. The junior co-captain has made enormous strides this offseason. He consistently fills the stat sheet for the Blue Devils and tonight was no different. Moore led the team with 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting and added six rebounds, four assists and two steals with only one turnover. All the while, he is arguably Duke’s best defender – Keels and Williams may have something to say about that, though.

It’s been a while since Duke has had an upperclassman step up consistently in this way, and it’s just a nice thing to see.

Mark Williams has (re)emerged

The sophomore center struggled in Duke’s opening three games and questions began to swirls. I had questions of my own, including how Williams and Banchero could truly co-exist in the frontcourt, and while they haven’t been 100% answered, if both can contribute double-digit points most games, it’ll be alright.

Williams was working on both sides of the ball against Lafayette. Physically superior, the 7-footer had 14 points, 15 rebounds, including eight on the offensive glass, and four blocks. He was everywhere in the paint, walling up Leopard big men and terrorizing their guards. There were multiple possessions offensively, where Williams’ limited offensive repertoire was exposed, but his sheer will kept him fighting for the ball. I don’t know how, or if, that will work against Gonzaga next week. Regardless, after several poor performances, the future is looking optimistic once again for Williams.

A.J. Griffin stars off the bench

Griffin has had plaguing knee injuries throughout high school that continued into his start at Duke. If Friday was any indication, he is looking like his junior-year self at prep school Archbishop Stepinac. The five-star freshman came off the bench and was the most efficient Blue Devil on the night, scoring 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, and, more impressively, 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.

The projected lottery pick is awkwardly smooth with ball – if that makes any sense. You see his frame – 6-6, 220 pounds – and you don’t expect him to move as well as he does laterally. He’s also fairly quick so he has no problem blowing by flat-footed defenders and getting into the paint for a floater or dunk. Griffin is insanely athletic and if his threat from distance is a consistent thing, that is a scary sight for Duke opponents.

Jeremy Roach held scoreless on off night

Listen, it happens. Sometimes it isn’t your night. Fortunately for Duke, there were other players who could pick up the slack, but Roach’s goose egg was one of the few frustrations. He did some good things in the second half, including beating a defender with a combo move at the top of the key and lobbing it up to Mark Williams to extend the Duke lead to 30. Cameron Indoor erupted and it was probably the first time Roach smiled in the game. He did lead the team in assists and also had two steals, but is 0-for-6 shooting is a concern.

Is this Duke defense’s Achilles heel backdoor cuts?

On several occasions in both halves, the Duke defense was exposed on backdoor cuts. I think it was something that Lafayette knew they could attack, but also something less-talented teams make an effort to do because it’s gonna be hard to win those 1-v-1 battles against superior opponents.

Oftentimes the ball would find it’s way to a Lafayette player outside the arc, and a fellow Leopard would make a simple flare to the perimeter to drag the Blue Devil defender before leaving him in space for an easy lay-up. You’ve got to figure Coach K will point this out at the next film session, but it became an all too common occurrence for a Duke basketball defense that has held every opponent below 40% from the field.

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