Rushed Reactions: Notre Dame 74, Duke 64

Posted by Matt Patton on March 14th, 2015


Three Key Takeaways.

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

  1. Notre Dame absolutely dominated the first half. The Irish hit some unbelievably tough shots and made Jahlil Okafor try to beat them on his own. As a result, Duke’s other players went 4-of-16 from the field and committed seven turnovers. Notre Dame may be the only team in the country with five guys who can consistently hit shots (although Duke has some lineups that also fit that description). The Irish smothered Duke by forcing the guards to play deeper than usual and fronting Okafor. They also hit shots, lots of them. Mike Brey’s team had a total of five and-ones in the first half alone. Five. When Duke went to its zone, Bonzie Colson just crushed the Blue Devils from the high post. When they went back to man, Demetrius Jackson got to the rim with incredible ease. Even in the second half when Duke started making its eventual run, Notre Dame’s ability to get to the rim (and the free throw line) felt like the reason Duke never got it back to a single-possession game.
  2. Demetrius Jackson is destined for great things. This may be an obvious statement (Jackson was a McDonald’s All-American, after all), but Jackson is a fantastic young player. He brings an athletic dimension to Mike Brey’s team that has been somewhat missing over the years. Jackson frequently broke Duke’s three-quarter court pressure like no one was there with his quick bursts of speed and playground dribbling moves in traffic. He also got to the rim with ease, finishing the evening with five assists and only one turnover in 39 minutes of action. If there’s a reason to still be bullish on the Irish next season without Jerian Grant, it’s because the sophomore Jackson is ready to take over the team.
  3. Mike Krzyzewski was remarkably calm. Coach K has a reputation of being curt and snippy in his pressers after Duke losses, but other than a defensive response to a question about last year’s team not meeting expectations, he was remarkably measured. I have a few theories on this attitude. The most likely idea is that he felt like Duke would have won the game if Quinn Cook hadn’t been gassed (Krzyzewski said on Thursday that Cook had been fighting off an illness). Cook went 1-of-10 from three on mostly good looks (0-of-8 in the second half) and he did a good job defending Jerian Grant, but it just looked like he wasn’t playing at 100 percent. The other theory is that Krzyzewski really liked the way Justise Winslow and Okafor fought back after horrible first halves.

Player of the Game. Jahlil Okafor is the obvious pick. It was his best game in a couple of weeks. He put up 28 points on 18 shots (and left six points on the free throw line). The only reason Duke was around to make a run in the second half is because the All-American center put the team on his back. Mike Brey said after the game that the Irish didn’t double Okafor because “we just didn’t want them to light us up from the three-point line.” They doubled him a couple of times in the first half when he received the ball really deep in the post, but Brey’s plan to let one player try to beat him paid off in two out of three meetings with the Blue Devils this year.

Quotable (courtesy of Lauren Brownlow). Pat Connaughton on his turnaround dagger that put the Irish up six late in the game (after Okafor had missed two free throws that would have cut it to a single-possession game): “I’m going to tell you I was damn sure it was going in. However, at the time, I just had to wait to see it go through the rim to be sure.” That play killed Duke’s run. It was perfectly defended and came at the very end of the shot clock.

What’s Next: Duke has to sit on its hands waiting to find out whether it gets a #1 seed and whether it will be in a distant regional like Houston or Los Angeles. Notre Dame gets a chance to win its first conference title in program history against North Carolina. Mike Brey was giddy with anticipation after the game. When asked about the opportunity, he summed it up perfectly:

Well, there would be no greater achievement in the history of our program. Again, we were an independent for a long time, but this would be as good as anything we’ve done in our history. And it’s something, personally, I’ve kind of been searching for to get to Saturday night and play for a tournament championship. As I said, it eluded us. I think we went to six semifinals in the Big East and just had some great games and couldn’t get to the next night, but I’m thrilled. You know, for us, I guess it’s only fitting that to get it, you’ve got to go through Duke and North Carolina down here on their turf. I think we’d put an asterisk by it if we got it and you get both of them in the semis and the final.

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