On a night when its outside shots weren’t falling, its senior leader was plagued by foul trouble and its defense was often appallingly bad, Duke learned a valuable lesson about itself.
Marvin Bagley III can cover up a lot of flaws.
Bagley cemented himself as the nation’s premier freshman with a monster second-half performance in Duke’s 85-78 overtime victory over Texas. Twenty-four of Bagley’s game-high 34 points came after halftime as the Blue Devils surged back from a 16-point second-half deficit to advance to face either Florida or Gonzaga in the title game of the PK80 Invitational’s Motion Bracket.
Everything NBA scouts love about Bagley was on display during Duke’s comeback on Friday evening, from his unwavering confidence, to his effortless athleticism, to his scoring instincts. The 6-foot-11 forward swooped in for dunks, attacked the basket off the dribble and even knocked down one of the two 3-point shots he attempted en route to an ultra-efficient 12-for-19 shooting night.
One of the few mistakes Bagley made the entire night was settling for a contested 3-pointer on Duke’s final possession of regulation instead of trying to go toward the basket. Bagley made up for his error by scoring Duke’s first seven points of overtime against a depleted Texas frontline that lost two of its three big men to foul-outs minutes earlier.
In a game that featured three potential lottery picks in next June’s NBA draft, Bagley undoubtedly left an impression on NBA scouts. Teammate Wendell Carter (14 points, 11 rebounds) showed impressive strength and soft touch around the rim and Texas 7-footer Mohamed Bamba (9 points, 10 rebounds) protected the rim and showed some early aggression on offense, but neither had anywhere near the impact Bagley did.
Take away Bagley’s four-point performance against Michigan State when he logged only 10 minutes before leaving with an eye injury, and he would be averaging 24 points per game so far this season. He hasn’t shown a playmaking dimension yet, but he is shooting 60 percent from the field and grabbing 10 rebounds per game.
Duke needed peak Bagley against Texas on a night when the Blue Devils didn’t look the part of a No. 1 team for long stretches.
Grayson Allen picked up his third foul eight minutes before halftime and then had to sit for good late in regulation after being disqualified on a charging foul. As a result, Mike Krzyzewski lost his premier outside shooter for long stretches and finished out the game with a lineup of five freshmen.
That Duke escaped with a win is impressive, but it was not without some obvious learning moments.
Carter, Bagley and sophomore Marques Bolden appeared confused when to rotate on help defense and sometimes didn’t even pretend to protect the rim. Duke also was slow getting back in transition and ineffective keeping Texas out of the lane in either zone or man-to-man.
While typically cold-shooting Texas shot 4-for-23 from behind the arc, the Longhorns were much more effective when they stopped settling for threes and attacked off the dribble or through Bamba or Dylan Osetkowski in the high post. Osetkowski led the Longhorns with 19 points, while athletic wing Kerwin Roach had 18, two of which came on a high-flying transition dunk that has already spread quickly on social media.
But for all Duke’s defensive flaws, the Blue Devils still left the floor celebrating on Friday night, and they had Bagley to thank for that.
Texas had Duke down 16 midway through the second half and dead in the water. Bagley engineered one heck of an escape.
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