It didn’t take long this season for Duke to figure out it had to learn how to play with a physical edge.
To gauge what the No. 6 Blue Devils (2-1) have learned since last week, they’ll receive a test Tuesday night when No. 5 Illinois (3-1) visits for an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game in Durham, N.C.
“The physicality on Tuesday is going to be crazy,” Duke forward Matthew Hurt said. “They have great players at Illinois, but we’re going to stick to the game plan and have solid defense and create for others.”
There has been unexpected extra preparation time for both teams, which had weekend games called off because of coronavirus issues with scheduled opponents. Illinois was to play Tennessee Martin, while Duke was slated to face Elon.
Both teams lost last week, with Duke falling at home to No. 8 Michigan State and the Fighting Illinois losing to No. 2 Baylor, 82-69, in Indianapolis.
“That’s all we’ve been talking about is 50-50 balls,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said of the need to battle in scrappy situations.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski saw his team struggle at times against an older Michigan State team last week. He doesn’t want a repeat with another Big Ten Conference team arriving at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“We’re just a young team and we have to just keep playing hard,” Krzyzewski said.
While Krzyzewski has used a total of eight players in the starting lineup across three games, the Illini have stuck with the same five in all four games.
“It’s about different lineups you can have in there,” Krzyzewski said. “The more we play, the more familiar they will get with one another.”
Still, the Blue Devils are bound to put an emphasis on getting freshman Jalen Johnson going at a better clip. He’s second on the team in scoring at 13 points per game, but just fifth in minutes played (24 per game). He has been hurt by fouls, costing him playing time.
“We’re going to need him to play at a high level,” Krzyzewski said. “He can’t play at a high level with that kind of foul trouble.”
Duke isn’t the only team with headline-grabbing freshmen. Illinois’ Adam Miller averages 14.5 points per game, second on the team behind Ayo Dosunmu’s 23.8.
Reserve forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili’s 15 points in the Baylor game marked his highest total in more than a calendar year.
“That’s the old Giorgi we all know and love,” Underwood said. “He loves these big games and those moments.”
Matthew Hurt and Jaemyn Brakefield were Duke’s only double-figure scorers Friday night against Bellarmine, combining to make 10 of 12 3-point attempts. The rest of the Blue Devils combined to make just 3 of 14 attempts from beyond the arc.
Hurt had 21 points against Michigan State, giving the sophomore back-to-back games with 20 or more points for the first time.
Brakefield is among Duke’s newcomers, with his shooting touch distinguishing him so far.
“It’s obvious he can shoot and we have to make sure he’s put in that position,” Krzyzewski said.
Brakefield, who has come off the bench in each game and averages eight points per game, said, “We prepare every day to make shots like that.”
Illinois and Duke haven’t met since the 2007 Maui Invitational. This will be the third meeting as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, with Duke winning in 1999 in Chicago and in 2000 in Greensboro, N.C.
The Blue Devils hold the best record of any team in either league in ACC/Big Ten Challenge games at 19-2. They’ve won eight straight games as part of the series, while they’re 9-0 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke leads the all-time series with the Illini, 5-2.
–Field Level Media