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No. 3 Duke pulls away late to beat pesky Hartford

Duke’s Zion Williamson is a ‘Dunk Monster’

The Blue Devil freshman talks about his dunking prowess and the energy it provides the already hyper Cameron Crazies.
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The Blue Devil freshman talks about his dunking prowess and the energy it provides the already hyper Cameron Crazies.

It never felt like Duke was in serious danger of losing Wednesday night, that Hartford would be the first non-conference team to beat the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium since February 2000.

That doesn’t mean Duke’s 84-54 win over the Hawks was comfortable by any stretch.

This is, after all, a Duke team that’s outscored its opponents by an average of 26.1 points per game this season. Against Hartford (3-7), the Blue Devils didn’t push their lead over 20 points until Zion Williamson’s layup with 7:08 remaining.

The Blue Devils (8-1) never found much rhythm offensively against Hartford’s zone, which lead to a plodding performance before Duke pulled away late to extend its non-conference home winning streak to 144 games. The Blue Devils shot 62 percent in the second half after hitting just 40 percent from the field in the first half.

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Duke led by nine points at halftime and saw its lead shrink to 36-31 when Hartford’s Jason Dunne drilled a 3-pointer with 18:23 to play.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called a timeout seven second after that basket, slamming a chair over and over like a jackhammer in the huddle. It was the third time in 2:01 of game time he’d addressed the team. He angrily called a timeout with 27 seconds left in the first half when Hartford guard J.R. Lynch drove through the Blue Devils half-court defense uncontested for a layup.

Combine that with halftime and the early timeout in the second half, and it was obvious Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils had plenty to discuss.

Of course, having standout freshmen R.J. Barrett and Williamson to talk to eventually makes things easier.

Barrett recorded his first double-double at Duke, scoring 27 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.

After a six-point first half, Williamson came on strong join Barrett in the double-double club with 18 points and 12 rebounds.

Freshman point guard Tre Jones added 10 points and six assists for Duke.

After Dunne’s 3-pointer left Duke with a five-point lead with 18:23 to play, the Blue Devils steadied themselves with their defense.

Hartford went scoreless on five of its next six possessions. The Blue Devils forced three turnovers in that stretch.

That allowed Duke to get its transition game going a bit to score eight consecutive points with Jones scoring two of the baskets.

Hartford sliced its deficit under 10 points, at 47-39, one final time on a Dunne 3-pointer at 12:12. But a Duke scoring burst finally allowed it to separate from the underdog Hawks.

Williamson hit two free throws, Jack White stole a pass for a breakaway layup and Cam Reddish hit a 3-pointer to complete a seven-point run over 40 seconds to put Duke up 54-39.

The Blue Devils start slow against the outmatched Hartford squad but a second half surge defensively stops the visitors

The Blue Devils held a 33-24 halftime lead after 20 minutes of uninspiring first 20 minutes of basketball. It’s the lowest scoring half the Blue Devils have produced this season.

Duke missed its first 10 3-point attempts, failing to make one until three seconds shy of 12 minutes in to the game. Duke shot 14 of 35 overall (40 percent).

At least Duke was usually on top of things defensively. Hartford hit just 9 of 27 first-half shots (33 percent) while committing eight turnovers. Duke’s five steals contributed to the Hawks’ struggles to score.

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An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.