Duke Basketball
Duke basketball returned to Cameron Indoor Stadium after a two-week hiatus, but the Blue Devils showed no rust, throttling SC State 103-62. (Photo by Lance King / Getty Images)

Blue Review: A 2021-22 Duke Basketball Recap – Game 9 vs SC State

After a two-week hiatus, Duke basketball returned to face South Carolina State at home in Cameron Indoor Stadium. It was the Blue Devils first of three games over the next five days, and it was also the squad’s first game since their second-half collapse and loss to Ohio State on Nov. 30.

After such a significant layoff, rust and early struggles are expected, but you wouldn’t have known it by the score line.

The Blue Devils jumped out to an early lead and never looked back – the exact thing coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke faithful would have wanted. Duke throttled the visiting Bulldogs 103-62 in a well-rounded effort that saw six players end up in double-figure scoring. Their offense, which lacked both collective playmaking and balance against the Buckeyes, was functioning like a well-oiled machine on Tuesday night. The Blue Devils shot 55.9 percent from the field and a season-best 55.6 percent from beyond the arc, while also recording a 91.7 percent mark from the free throw line.

Let’s get into some takeaways.

A.J. Griffin needs more minutes

Griffin, a five-star prospect, has been plagued by injuries since his junior year of high school, with a further setback coming in the form of a knee injury in October. He has since seen his minutes under Coach K fluctuate – before the game against SC State, he averaged 10.4 minutes a game – as his more notable appearances came at home in games against opponents Duke was far superior to. I have long assumed that Krzyzewski and the coaching staff have been waning Griffin back into the rotation, but after a night like tonight, he needs – and deserves – more minutes.

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound wing totaled a game high 19 points on 7-for-8 shooting, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range. Griffin has incredible body control for a player of his stature and moves with a certain fluidity we often don’t see from freshmen. His ability to knock down shots from distance will be an incredible asset come conference play, especially for a Blue Devil team that came into Tuesday’s game shooting 32.8 percent from beyond the arc. Griffin can take this Duke basketball squad to the next level, and I certainly hope Coach K gives the freshman his deserved increase in playing time.

Points of concern: turnovers and SC State’s offensive rebounds

In a 41-point blowout, there are often few things you could expect to point to as significant areas of improvement. So, while yes, Duke’s offense looked its most impressive tonight, it also turned the ball over 16 times. The mark is nearly double the squad’s season average (8.5) and was the result of several sloppy, uncharacteristic decisions in transition opportunities. It’s something I expect the team to clean up, but it was a tad unsettling to see the recurring crosscourt passes and frantic jump passes in both the halfcourt and transition.

On the flip side, the number of offensive rebounds hauled in by the Bulldogs is alarming. South Carolina State snagged 21 rebounds on the offensive glass, compared to Duke’s six. The Blue Devils were missing backup center Theo John to an injury, so the frontcourt rotation was limited, but opponents outrebounding Duke on the offensive glass is becoming a consistent theme that needs to be cleaned up soon.

Playmakers not named Wendell Moore Jr. and Trevor Keels shine

The big question coming into the year was how Duke would solve their point guard quandary. Krzyzewski found the answer in junior wing Wendell Moore Jr., who coming into the game led the Blue Devils and the ACC with 5.6 assists per game. Freshman guard Trevor Keels has also been tabbed as a playmaker for this squad, averaging 3.4 assists before Tuesday. Moore did not assist on a single basket in the win, while Keels recorded three. It was a relatively quiet playmaking night from the pair, but it did illustrate that the squad can find creators elsewhere.

The Blue Devils assisted on 23 of their 33 made field goals. Freshman phenom Paolo Banchero led the squad with six assists, with Bates Jones adding five off of the bench too. Banchero’s playmaking, especially in transition opportunities, was something that I hoped Coach K would utilize and it was on display against the Bulldogs. Ultimately, he’s your best player, put the ball in his hands and let him work – he did that tonight and hopefully continues to do it in the future. Jones’ ability to find shooters in the corners was another welcomed addition. All in all, if this team continues to play for one another and not rely on Moore or Keels to drive the offensive creation, this team’s ceiling increases even more – maybe even to the roof.

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