After a day off, Duke finally gets to work on its defense

Duke freshman Gary Trent, Jr. says his team worked on defense on Friday heading into the Blue Devils’ game against South Dakota on Saturday.
Duke freshman Gary Trent, Jr. says his team worked on defense on Friday heading into the Blue Devils’ game against South Dakota on Saturday. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Duke freshman guard Gary Trent Jr. described the Blue Devils’ recent road trip in a few ways.

He called it “mentally and emotionally draining” after the series of big come-from-behind victories. And he said the return home was “great.” Not necessarily because they got a chance to rest and breath after four games in seven days.

But because the team finally got to work on its defense.

After a day off on Thursday, the Blue Devils got back to the gym on Friday, and according to Trent, worked on their defensive slides and schemes.

Duke (9-0) has the nation’s most efficient offense, according to kenpom.com, an advanced analytic site. The Blue Devils score 122.1 points per 100 possessions. But its defense has seen its struggles recently.

In all three of its games in the PK80 tournament in Portland last week (against Portland State, Texas and Florida), Duke trailed at halftime. Its offense was efficient, but so were its opponents. Points in the paint have been the biggest issue.

The Blue Devils have two of the best big men in the country – Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter. But teams have either been able to nearly match Duke or surpass it in points in the paint. Opposing teams have had success with offensive rebounds, and getting to the lane and in transition.

In Duke’s 85-78 overtime win over Texas in the PK80 tournament, the Longhorns had 48 points in the paint. Duke had 50. In Duke’s 87-84 win over Florida, the Gators had 34 points in the paint, while Duke had 38.

And Indiana outscored Duke in the paint 46-44.

“For myself, just really trying to lock in defensively,” Trent said of what he’s trying work on. “After a shot goes up just trying to box out, trying to be good with on ball defense and simply as a team just trying to pack in the lane.”

Senior guard Grayson Allen said he was more encouraged the teams’ last few games. He said despite, their slow starts, they were still able to find ways to win.

“Even though we can play a lot better, especially defensively, at the end of the day, we still figured it out and we don’t have to learn the hard way by losing,” Allen said.

The Blue Devils haven’t been able to practice much recently. They have played nine games in 20 days, and three in four days, last week. Krzyzewski said after Wednesday’s game that the team tends to stop talking on defense when they were are tired.

“Especially guys when they’re tired, they don’t talk,” Krzyzewski said. “They talk to themselves, and that’s how we played most of the game. We wanted to win, but we were in like ‘this is what I have to do,’ instead of ‘this is what we have to do.’

“And when you talk, you command to yourself to more decisive movements. You might switch and don’t talk and its soft. But if you yell and command ‘switch,’ then your body responds.”

He said that’s one of the things the coaching staff has to teach the team.

Duke plays South Dakota (7-2) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Coyotes allow only 63.7 points per game, which ranks 43rd in the country.

Jonathan M. Alexander: 919-829-4822, @jonmalexander

South Dakota at Duke

When: 3:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: Cameron Indoors Stadium, Durham