Duke senior guard Grayson Allen said if the team is going to continue to play at a fast pace, and play good defense, the bench must play like it did against Pitt.
Players are going to get tired, he said.
“So that’s when we need the guys off the bench to come in and bring those minutes,” Allen said, “so the guys that are on the court playing the majority of the minutes aren’t pacing themselves or trying to stay in the game longer. It’s work your but off in the game, so when you’re tired somebody can come in and give you a little rest.”
Pacing themselves was an issue for the Blue Devils (14-2, 2-2 ACC) earlier in the season, especially during the PK80 tournament in November. Players would play in spurts and try to conserve energy. It affected their defense, and the Blue Devils would often find themselves down double digits. Then they would make a comeback.
No. 7 Duke’s starters account for 83 percent of its points. Often more. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has often said his team is not deep this year. He usually runs a seven- or eight-man rotation.
The lack of depth, and starters pacing themselves, finally caught up to it when Duke lost to Boston College, 89-84, on Dec. 9.
Its bench only scored 10 points that game. Eight of those points came from sophomore forward Javin DeLaurier. And in a 96-85 loss to N.C. State on Jan. 6, the bench scored only four points. All four points, again, came from DeLaurier. Sophomore center Marques Bolden did not play in that game. He was out with a knee injury.
DeLaurier has been nursing a tight hamstring.
Both were out on Wednesday, so that meant other players, who may not have normally played, had to step up.
Enter sophomore forward Justin Robinson (6-9, 198 pounds). Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had told him in practice that he would likely put him in at forward. Robinson joked that when Krzyzewski tells you to be ready, “you better be ready.”
“I was fired up when I knew I was about to play,” Robinson said. “I was fired up to play some defense and go out there and get some stops.”
Robinson scored 10 of Duke’s 22 bench points. He knocked down shots when freshmen forwards Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. were double-teamed in the post. Robinson was 3-for-5 from behind the 3-point line. He also added three blocks.
“We have to, while we’re improving, get to know the group we have right now. The group without Javin and Marques,” Krzyzewski said. “Like Pitt has lost their kid for a while. They’ve had to adapt. ... But the bench did a good job. JRob was very good.”
Duke could be without Bolden again for its game against Wake Forest (8-8, 1-3) at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday. Earlier in the week, Krzyzewski said Bolden would miss Saturday’s game too. Bolden has an Grade 1 MCL sprain.
If that happens, Duke will have to go deep into its bench again with Robinson, Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. And again, someone will have to step up.