With only one upperclassman on the floor, Duke’s freshman class was forced to grow up fast against a good Georgetown team in order to win the 2K Classic Championship 86-84 on Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden.
Sophomore Grayson Allen and junior Matt Jones were the wise old vets of the final minutes, guiding Brandon Ingram, Derryck Thrornton, Chase Jeter and Luke Kennard through one heck of a growing experience against the Hoyas.
Georgetown started hot with crisp ball movement and goot cuts that resulted in easy buckets and an early lead. Duke looked vulnerable on the defensive end of the floor and was only remaining in the game thanks to Grayson Allen, who finished with a career-high 32 points on 9-for-12 shooting (5-for-6 from three) in 38 minutes of action.
The Hoyas were much more balanced with four players in double figures, led by Isaac Copeland’s 21 points and six rebounds. Freshman Kaleb Johnson had a particularly good game (14 points) that was cut short by foul trouble and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera had plenty of success getting looks, though he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in a 14-point effort.
Copeland even a had a shot to win at the end of the game, but the look fell short. Georgetown now falls to 1-3 on the season with all of its losses coming by combined eight points.
Duke took control of the game from Georgetown at the start of the second half, when Mike Krzyzewski switched to a 1-3-1 zone defense with two bigs out near the perimeter and Matt Jones running the baseline. The length and athleticism of Duke’s bigs, particularly when Brandon Ingram was at the top of the key in the zone, created all kinds of issues for Georgetown’s interior passing. The success was notable, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Duke goes back to that 1-3-1 if it again finds itself getting picked apart inside down the road.
Here are three things to know from Duke’s win:
1. Duke has to be smarter. Foul trouble, bad possessions down in the final minutes and missed free throws prevented Duke from pulling away after a strong start to the second half. Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee fouled out, leaving three of Duke’s star-studded freshman on the court for the final minute of play. The inexperienced showed as Georgetown was able to hang around until the final horn.
2. Grayson Allen is better when Derryck Thornton is playing well. Grayson Allen’s offensive production alone is going to be enough to give Duke a decent chance to win in most of its games this year, but for the Blue Devils to be ACC title contenders there’s got to be another step forward offensively from where the team is at right now. Right now, it looks like that next step will come with the continued development of freshman point guard Derryck Thornton.
Thornton finished 14 points, mostly at the line, but most importantly when he was in the game Allen was able to play off the ball and the entire offense operated about a click (or two) faster with both players in the game.
3. Tight games like this early in the season will help Duke in conference play and beyond. When you’re recruiting at a high level like Coach K is right now and reloading every season, these early season contests against quality opponents feel like watching a chef toy in the kitchen. Krzyzewski is finding out how this particular Duke team reacts to different styles, and Georgetown is good enough so that the Blue Devils’ talent was not enough to win on Sunday. Duke had to get out of its comfort zone and make some in-game adjustments to win. The fact that this young team responded well is a great sign for the Blue Devils moving forward.