Most of the focus in every Duke game goes to Jahlil Okafor, the popular choice for number one pick in the next NBA draft. But in his first big College Basketball game, it wasn’t just about him as the Blue Devils beat Michigan State 81-71, getting plenty of help from Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow.
Duke are just like everybody else, and they get their number four overall ranking because of their ability to attract what are probably going to become one-and-done freshman. Okafor is the biggest name coming in to the NCAA basketball scene this season, and no one is expecting him to stay more than one year. His dominance against the Spartans in the Fieldhouse in Indianapolis was impossible to ignore, making Duke better with every touch he had on the ball.
And it’s been a great start for him in his career under the spotlight. He scored 17 points on 8-of-10 from the field against Michigan State, following a combined 36 points in the previous two games against less distinguished opponents. He has taken 10 field goal attempts in each of the three games, and is so far making 83.3% of his shots. But his influence and his dominance is a lot easier to observe in way more than his individual scoring.
When Duke played half court offense, Okafor touched the ball on the possession 43% of the time. When he’s involved in the offense, they average 1.38 points per possession, while shooting 62.5% from the field. When he’s out of the loop? Only 37.5% from the field and 0.95 points per possession. But it wasn’t just his efficiency in the planned offense that put Duke over the Spartans. It was their ability to run the floor, something Michigan State can’t do at the moment.
Duke outscored the Spartans 24-4 off of turnovers, State’s worst points differential off of TO’s in the last four years. Scoring just four points off turnovers is their third lowest output in the last four seasons. Denzel Valentine found himself trapped over and over again, giving it up five times. Branden Dawson had a very good game with 18 points and 9 rebounds, but he also turned the ball over three times and struggled on defense.
Quinn Cook, the senior in the lineup for Duke, led the way with 19 points on 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. The Blue Devils had plenty of good shots, hitting 50% of their 3-point attempts. Tyus Jones scored 15 points and Justise Winslow helped out with 15 points, giving Duke 49 points from their three lineup freshmen. The only Freshmen for Michigan State were coming off the bench, and didn’t really make an impact on the game.
Playing in Indianapolis this early and winning isn’t what Duke are seeking. The Final Four will be played in the same city five months from now, and they’re planning on getting carried there by their big three of Okafor, Jones and Cook. The rest of the team was only 8-of-23 from the field. The early signs are promising for the Blue Devils although non conference wins in November don’t mean that much in March, but Coach K needs to get more out of his less celebrated players pretty soon.