Facing Yale for the third time since the 2015–16 season, the No. 3 Duke team notched its third straight win, crushing the Elis 91–58.
Travelling to Durham, North Carolina, the Bulldogs (4–3, 0–0 Ivy) understood the enormous challenge that the Blue Devils (9–1, 0–0 ACC) posed. Although they kept pace with the Blue Devils for most of the first half, relentless ball pressure and Yale’s lack of offensive composure ultimately allowed Duke to significantly expand its lead in the second half. Outscored 50–26 in the second frame, the Elis ultimately suffered a 91–58 defeat, committing 23 turnovers and gifting Duke 24 points off of lost possessions.
Duke’s talented first-year trio of future NBA forwards — 6-foot-7-inch RJ Barrett, 6-foot-8-inch Cam Reddish and 6-foot-7-inch Zion Williamson — drew a loud, sold-out crowd of 9,314 to Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday night, living up to the crowd’s expectations by combining for 60 of Duke’s 91 points.
“It’s all about keeping our composure,” head coach James Jones said. “I didn’t think we did a great job of that at times, and that really hurt us. They went on a couple of runs that, because of our lack of poise and composure, hurt us. You look at the score, and I don’t know that that’s completely indicative of how we played, but we could have certainly been better in the last 10 minutes, and we were not. That’s something that we just need to learn from.”
The Elis looked calm and collected at the start of the first half, trading buckets with the powerhouse Blue Devils in a primetime environment. Yale maintained a 22–21 lead with 8:06 remaining in the frame. Guard Miye Oni ’20 took control of the offense on numerous isolation plays and carved his way to the hole for two-point scores despite overwhelming defensive pressure.
Duke, however, found its defensive rhythm, forcing 16 Bulldog turnovers in the first 20 minutes of play. Capitalizing off 12 first-half steals, the strikingly athletic Blue Devils flew down the court and punished Yale on the fast break. By the game’s end, Duke had scored 31 fast-break points compared to Yale’s nine in transition.
The Blue Devils applied unrelenting defensive pressure, as first-year guard Tre Jones shadowed point guard Alex Copeland ’19 bringing the basketball up the court. Especially in the second half, Duke occasionally sent a second defender on the ball handler once they crossed half-court, and Yale appeared uncomfortable on offense throughout. The team shot 35.4 percent from the field and 13.0 percent from the three-point line — both season-lows.
“It all starts with his pressure on the ball,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Copeland’s a real good guard, but he had to fight Tre the whole night, and then that makes it easier for all our other guys to play defense.”
Three-quarters of the way through the first half, Duke began to increase its lead. Guard Trey Phills ’19 and captain and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 each picked up their second foul within seconds, putting the Blue Devils into the bonus and sending Yale’s senior duo to the bench with foul trouble. And fast-break points followed, as the Blue Devils continued to strip the Elis of possession on offense to capitalize on the other end.
Yale outrebounded Duke in the first half, outmatching the Blue Devils’ size under the rim by a margin of 24 to 20. Though the long and athletic forwards Javin DeLaurier, Barrett and Reddish combined for seven boards, Oni himself led Yale with as many rebounds in the half. Bruner and Atkinson chipped in five and four, respectively, while Williamson led Duke with four first-half boards.
As the half progressed, Oni continued to propel the Elis on offense but found himself in foul trouble. After sitting for most of the second half with four fouls, he re-entered the contest with 9:12 left in the game, joined by Bruner, who also had four fouls. Much to Cameron’s delight, Oni fouled out with just under seven minutes to go, providing a symbolic end to the slim chance of an Eli comeback.
“[Oni’s] a great player,” Duke forward and captain Jack White said. “It was just a battle. Both teams wanted to win. It gets a bit chippy sometimes, which just comes out of passion. He played a good game, and we were just trying to match that passion and energy with our own.”
Continued Yale turnovers and the team’s inability to stop Williamson and Barrett sealed the win for Duke, as impressive drives and emphatic dunks ignited the Cameron crowd, which chanted “We Want Harvard!” in the final minutes. With the final score cementing itself at 91–58, the star-studded Blue Devils — who have not lost a nonconference game at home since Feb. 26, 2000 — have now won eight games in the 2018–19 campaign by way of blowout.
Although the Elis fell by 33 points, they managed to drown out the deafening noise of Cameron and hold their own in the first half against a top-three ranked opponent. Coach Krzyzewski, who was disappointed by his own team’s performance in the first half, was quick to credit Yale.
“We beat a really good team tonight,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re very well coached. Not well coached, very well coached. They have a veteran team. They’re a good group; they’re really a good group.”
On Tuesday night, Yale will turn its attention to a date with Albany back at home at the John J. Lee Amphitheater.
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