Wendell Carter Jr. knows in order for No. 1 Duke (11-0) to continue to dominate the paint he has to be in the game.
And that means staying out of foul trouble.
When asked why he thought it has been a problem, Carter said “to be honest, I can’t even answer that.”
“I just get caught up in the wrong situation at the wrong time,” he said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
Carter, a 6-10, 259-pound freshman forward, is a big reason for Duke’s success this year. No teams have been able to stop him and fellow freshman forward Marvin Bagley III (21.9 ppg, 11.2 rebounds), especially when both are in the game.
The only thing stopping Carter is himself.
On a normal day, Carter is a double-double guy. He averages 12.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. He is second on the team in double-doubles with five. But when he’s in foul trouble, his production decreases.
Foul trouble has caused Carter to miss significant time in a few games this season. He was in foul trouble against Florida on Nov. 26 and played only 21 minutes. He scored six points in that game but had the highest “plus/minus” score on the team at plus-15 (No one else was in double digits). Florida led for the majority of that game, a large part because Carter was in foul trouble.
Against Indiana on Nov. 29, Carter also missed a lot of time because of foul trouble. But when he was in the game he was gold. He scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in 24 minutes before fouling out. His offensive rebounding kept Duke in the game and helped pushed it ahead of Indiana.
“He’s a force inside,” Bagley said of Carter. “When I get the ball up top, he’s always sealing, and it’s an easy target to hit him and cut off and play off of him. He’s big, and he plays the game real well. He plays it the right way, and it’s always good to have a teammate like that.”
In Duke’s game against South Dakota last week, Carter also was in foul trouble. As a result, he scored only six points and grabbed four rebounds in 16 minutes.
After that game, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said that Carter’s game is impacted when he’s in foul trouble. When asked on Tuesday, what Carter adds when he’s in the game, Krzyzewski said he is one of the best rebounders.
“And he and Marvin play really well together,” Krzyzewski said. “Wendell, when he’s running like he was most of tonight, he’s a different player. And I thought he really wanted the ball. When he plays like that ... he’s a double-double guy. And anytime you get a double-double guy, two of them, he and Bagley, that means you’ve got a good combination there.”
It’s clear that when Carter is in the game, especially with Bagley, Duke is a different team. It’s hard enough to stop one dominant forward down low. When both are in the game, teams have to worry about stopping two, and they can’t double-team Bagley. Duke has outscored all of its opponents, except Indiana, where Carter fouled out, in points in the paint.
“I think I’ll be able to adjust pretty quickly, learning when and where to body up, when to jump for blocks and things like that,” Carter said. “So I’m definitely getting better at that.”
Duke, one of eight remaining undefeated teams as of Dec. 7, plays its first conference game of the season on Saturday against Boston College (6-3). The Eagles give up only 67.9 points per game on defense.
Krzyzewski recognizes that the Blue Devils have only one player who played significant minutes in the ACC last season. He said he reminds his players, that they are 0-0 when conference play starts.
“Playing some of the games we’ve played, I think helps prepare us for it,” he said. “Michigan State obviously, Texas, Florida, actually Portland State was really good.
“At Indiana. Those games, they should get us prepared. Although I think BC will be very good.”
No. 1 Duke at Boston College
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, Mass.