DURHAM — Duke continued to prove that less is more, winning its fourth straight game since losing its best player.
The Blue Devils blew out Louisville at Cameron Indoor Stadium, 82-56, to continue a remarkable turnaround. Just under two weeks ago, Duke lost to North Carolina. It was the second straight loss for the Blue Devils and third in four games.
Shortly after that game, the Blue Devils suffered another loss, when the team learned that Marvin Bagley III, the leading scorer and rebounder in the ACC, suffered a knee injury. He hasn’t played in four games, and details are scarce on the nature of the injury.
“Marvin has a problem,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It’s not structural. We want to make sure he doesn’t make it worse.”
While Bagley may have a problem, for four games now, Duke has not. The remaining Blue Devils have stepped up in the star freshman’s absence. Senior Grayson Allen hit six 3-pointers and scored 28 points against Louisville. Since Bagley went down, Allen is averaging 23.8 points per game, a 9½-point increase over his season average before the injury.
Allen has also taken on more of a leadership role on defense, improving the Blue Devils’ communication on that side of the ball and allowing Duke to improve drastically. In the last three games, Duke has held opponents to 52, 57 and 56 points. The Blue Devils held just three opponents below 60 points in their first 24 games.
“Grayson is our leader and by having him up on top, it allows him to lead better,” Krzyzewski said. “In the zone, he’s up on top and most of the time in offense he’s up on top. That positioning works out better to have his leadership have a positive influence on these guys.”
Wendell Carter Jr. has also thrived in the spotlight vacated by Bagley. He scored 18 points against Louisville and dished out six assists.
“With Marvin out, he’s going to get doubled more,” Krzyzewski said. “He can make a play, not just make a shot. Wendell has really been fantastic, not good. He had a great year, but these last few weeks he’s stepped it up even more.”
The run of success raises the question: Is Duke better without Bagley? The mere mention of the idea was met with “child, please” looks from Krzyzewski and the players. There’s no question that the team desperately wants him back.
“I’d take back Elton Brand, too, and JJ Redick,” Krzyzewski joked.
“We’re getting a lot better,” Allen said. “We’re better than we were last week, a lot better than we were two weeks ago, and we just keep improving, and it’s great to see. Guys are seeing different spots on the floor, we’re doing things together way better out there on offense and defense, talking more. We’re just becoming more of a team, becoming better together as a group. Next week, we’re going to be even better, so we’ve just got to keep this progression.”