NEW YORK – Duke’s freshmen – and some of its veterans, for that matter – struggled mightily in the Blue Devils’ first big test of 2015-16. The road to redemption for the nation’s fourth-ranked team begins Friday against VCU in the 2K Sports semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
A showdown with No. 2 Kentucky turned out to be a bit of a mismatch on Wednesday, as the defending NCAA Tournament champions trailed by double digits for much of the second half in a 74-63 defeat. The four freshmen for the Blue Devils combined to shoot 4-of-18 from the field, while the entire team (outside of seniors Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson) was a collective 11-for-40. “We just have to figure out our team,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said to reporters. “We do that every year. Most years it’s pretty good. Some years, you win a national championship. We are a ways from doing that with a group right now, but we can be a really good team. We have a lot of improvement ahead of us. We just have to accept that and go on and do it.” VCU has defeated Prairie View A&M and Radford by an average of 21.5 points.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
ABOUT DUKE (2-1): The Blue Devils’ got double-doubles from Jefferson (16 points, 15 rebounds) and Plumlee (12 and 10) on Wednesday, but Grayson Allen was 2-of-11 and Brandon Ingram was 1-of-6 in the loss to Kentucky. Still, Allen is the team’s leading scorer at 20 points per game, followed by Jefferson (15.3), Matt Jones (15) and Ingram (13.3). Plumlee has registered 11 blocks through three games and also has 11 offensive rebounds, although Jefferson is the real star in that area with 21 offensive boards on the young season.
ABOUT VCU (2-0): Melvin Johnson has taken on an increased role as a senior, as the Bronx native is averaging 18.5 points and three steals through the Rams’ first two games. Steals always seem to be a stat that VCU excels in – under previous coach Shaka Smart and new coach Will Wade – and this season is proving to be no different as the team has recorded 30 steals through two contests. Briante Weber will be tough to replace as the team’s point guard and defensive tone setter, but junior JeQuan Lewis (10.5 points, 7.5 assists, 3.0 steals) has done a nice job so far.
1. The winner of this game will face either Wisconsin or Georgetown in the 2K Sports title game.
2. Duke freshman F Luke Kennard is 2-for-11 from 3-point range, while fellow freshmen IngRam (5-for-15) and Derryck Thornton (2-for-8) aren’t faring much better.
3. Johnson has not committed a turnover in 52 minutes this season.
PREDICTION: Duke 59, VCU 53