Postgame Report Card: No. 4 Duke 68, No. 3 Kansas 66
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s season-opening 68-66 loss to Duke on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, in New York.
• The Jayhawks’ offense, though assertive early, quickly turned frantic, and they turned the ball over 5 times in the first 8 minutes.
The mistakes kept piling up in the first half, too. Udoka Azubuike, Devon Dotson, Silvio De Sousa and Marcus Garrett all were docked style (and substance) points with at least two turnovers in the game’s first 14 minutes, when KU gave away possession 13 times. KU even turned it over out of a timeout.
With 18 turnovers in the first half, KU gifted Duke its 33-30 intermission lead, built with 18 points off turnovers.
“We were awful. We’re lucky we’re only down three,” Bill Self said in an ESPN halftime interview, citing poor play from bigs and guards alike.
• KU also came out focused on getting the ball inside — either by feeding a big or a guard attacking. The Jayhawks didn’t even attempt a 3-pointer until a little more than 8 minutes in, when out of a timeout Ochai Agbaji drained a spot-up 3 from the left wing. Shortly after, freshman Tristan Enaruna followed his lead with a 3 of his own on his first college shot attempt.
The Jayhawks shot 2-for-5 from downtown in the first half and finished 4-for-11 in their opener. Playing large lineups didn’t exactly help out KU’s floor spacing. But maybe there aren’t shooters to make the arc a weapon for KU, especially with Isaiah Moss not yet able to play due to injury.
• Self told ESPN at halftime he wanted to see his players handle Duke’s heat, have some poise and show some leadership in the second half. The Jayhawks actually looked functional offensively for a few minutes out of the break, with the kind of focus, movement and energy that Self no doubt had in mind.
That didn’t last. An untimely giveaway with less than a minute left, with David McCormack trying to force a pass from the baseline to Azubuike, allowed Duke to take a three-point lead with 26.2 seconds to go.
KU finished with 28 turnovers in its 2019-20 debut.
• Duke got 14 more shots off than KU in the first half, because the Jayhawks were turning the ball over and giving up offensive rebounds (9). At least for KU’s sake the Blue Devils didn’t get hot from 3-point range or destroy the Jayhawks inside as a result in the first half. Give the Jayhawks at least a little credit for Duke’s 13-for-35 shooting in the opening 20 minutes, which kept the Devils from burying KU early.
• Defending Duke freshman forward Matt Hurt on the perimeter proved difficult for KU bigs, most often David McCormack, putting a spotlight on some potential longterm issues for the Jayhawks this season. If opponents have a big who can stretch the floor, KU will have to limit its big man minutes if McCormack or Silvio De Sousa can’t defend bigs and/or actions outside.
• In an ugly college basketball game, KU would need stops in the final minutes to start the season with a victory.
There was some good: Garrett protecting the paint with a swat at the rim; Agbaji securing a loose ball and throwing it off a defender; surrounding Vernon Carey in the paint and coming away with the ball.
And some bad: McCormack closing out ineffectively on a Hurt corner 3; Cassius Stanley driving off a ball screen for an and-one; surrendering an offensive rebound that led to a Tre Jones jumper.
• Shockingly, the first highlight from KU’s bigs came on an Azubuike dish. The 7-footer dropped a beauty of a bounce pass from the elbow to Agbaji for a backdoor slam and the game’s first points. The senior center proved at times to be an effective passer out of the post to cutters or divers. But turnovers, including a couple of travels, from Azubuike bogged down the offense, as well.
• Self started two bigs — Azubuike and David McCormack — but playing two post players together didn’t prove too effective on either end of the floor in the first half.
• In the opening minutes of the second half, though, Self stuck with the two bigs and they combined to chip in to a key run for Kansas. Azubuike assisted twice and slammed during the stretch, which also included a pair of layups for McCormack. Such success was short-lived.
The two-bigs mostly looked advantageous on the glass, with the two starting traditional bigs combining for 22 boards, as KU won on the glass, 44-34.
• Garrett proved he can make an impact offensively early by attacking off the dribble. He only needed a few minutes in MSG to use one of his drives to set up Azubuike with a lob and an easy slam for the big man.
The junior guard’s driving and dishing also keyed an 11-0 KU run in the second half, and his defense, per usual, was valuable, as he guarded multiple positions.
Much later, a nifty attack and finish cut Duke’s lead to one in the final minutes. But his ventures inside in crunch time came away without points for KU.
• Dotson had some bright spots early, finishing in transition for one and drawing fouls and getting to the foul line on multiple occasions. But the sophomore point guard’s four first half turnovers (matching Azubuike’s total, pre-halftime) also meant the Jayhawks found no rhythm whatsoever on a national stage.
His speed showed up in the second half, with a drive and layup in the final 2:30, but another take off the bounce rimmed out.
• Agbaji stood out for the right reasons much of the game, swiping steals, getting on the floor for a loose ball and scoring some easy, high-percentage shots — all thanks to his activity. The sophomore from Kansas City, Mo., was the first player from either team in double figures, as his open 3-pointer early in the second half gave him 12 points and KU the largest lead for either team at that juncture: 6 (43-37).
Even so, Agbaji (5 cough-ups overall) couldn’t escape the turnover bug, either, and some mistakes of his in the second half came at bad times as Duke needed and achieved runs off KU turnovers.
• With KU’s bench unit mostly comprised of freshmen, De Sousa was the first man off the bench. But it was wing and newbie Enaruna who looked ready early, giving KU all 5 of its bench points in the first half.
De Sousa got to show off some of his activity inside in the second half, snatching some rebounds and also drawing contact that would take him to the free throw line.