No. 2 Duke finally finds an opponent for Saturday: Elon

NCAA

No. 2 Duke has one game remaining before heading into Atlantic Coast Conference play. Finding an opponent has been the tricky part.

The would-be opponent has changed twice, but it’s still an important assignment Saturday night when the Blue Devils take on visiting Elon in Durham, N.C.

Duke will be determined to make the most of it as the team continues to mature.

“They’re getting to know one another,” Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewzki said. “The last few games, we’ve introduced AJ (Griffin) more, because he’s ready, and Joey (Baker has played more).”

Duke (9-1) was supposed to play Cleveland State on Saturday. COVID-19 protocols involving the Cleveland State team led to that game to be canceled, so Duke sought another opponent and Loyola (Md.) was willing to fill in.

By Friday, Loyola’s COVID issues interfered, so Duke went in search of another opponent. Elon is nearby, located about 40 miles from Duke and so the Phoenix quickly became the third team to fill Saturday’s slot opposite the Blue Devils.

Elon and Duke were supposed to play last season, but that game didn’t happen when Elon had COVID issues.

Elon is coached by Mike Schrage, who spent from 2002-08 as Duke’s director of basketball operations.

The Phoenix (3-8) are coming off their first victory against a Division I opponent this season. That happened Wednesday night when Jerald Gillens-Butler’s last-second 3-pointer gave the Phoenix a 63-61 home victory against Winthrop.

“With the schedule we’ve had, we’ve been talking a lot about breaking through,” Schrage said of the successful conclusion to the last game. “I felt that we finally defended at the level that we need to defend and we need to continue that going forward.”

Duke has cranked up the offense since returning from a two-week layoff, scoring 103 points against South Carolina State and 92 against Appalachian State in two lopsided wins this week. The Blue Devils knocked down 15 shots from 3-point range in each of those games.

It’s only the second time in program history Duke has bagged 15 or more 3s in consecutive games. The other time came nearly 21 years ago.

“That was a big emphasis for us, just spacing the floor and making it easier on each other,” Duke forward Paolo Banchero said. “Then driving it, if we draw another defender, kicking it or dropping it off, just making the easy play.”

The point production has spread throughout the lineup for Duke, making the Blue Devils more difficult to defend.

“You don’t really know who hit the (key) shot,” Wendell Moore Jr. said. “That’s kind of how we like it. Whether it’s me hitting a shot, Trevor (Keels), AJ (Griffin), Mark (Williams) getting a dunk, all we know is that Duke is scoring. If we’re scoring, that’s all that matters.”

Five Duke players are averaging more than nine points per game, led by Moore at 17.4 and Banchero at 17.0.

Elon has played a grueling schedule this season, including a 17-point loss to North Carolina last week. The Phoenix also have faced Florida, West Virginia, Mississippi and Temple and next week are at No. 24 Arkansas.

In order to make room for the visit to Duke, Elon scrapped a schedule home game Saturday against Division II Shaw.

–Field Level Media

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