Already without three of the top freshmen in the country, Duke could ill-afford to lose another player to injury. So when Grayson Allen and Chase Jeter went to the locker room in a span of what felt like a minute, Penn State's upset sense must have been tingling.
Duke though, is still Duke, even when they dip into their reserves to play major minutes. A banged up Amile Jefferson stepped in as a makeshift center to great effect in Jeter's absence, and Allen returned to impact the game in the way a preseason player of the year will, even at less than full capacity.
Penn State couldn't quite capitalize on the home team's misfortune, though it was a valiant effort nonetheless for a team in its first major test against the highest of high-majors. Tony Carr led the charge for the de facto visitors in a Duke-heavy crowd with 20 points. The freshman showed no fear attacking the rim and pushing the ball on defensive rebounds - in fact the Nittany Lions outscored the AP's top team 12-0 in fast break points. If evidence was needed to support Pat Chambers' decision to play an uptempo style this season, this game was plenty.
A perpetual double-digit lead was chewed down to eight by Shep Garner's first three of the afternoon with 2:34 to play. It was a tough afternoon for the junior leader, who shot just 1-6 from deep. A much different story could have been written had Garner put together a better shooting display - Duke forced Penn State to shoot from the perimeter all afternoon, and it worked. You can't help but wonder what what could've been had PSU shot better than 27% from three.
Alas, it was still a promising showing from a Penn State team that has gotten the brakes beaten off of it against worse teams in the past. There's reason to think a game against Cincinnati or Rhode Island could produce a different result on Sunday. Coach K himself might agree:
"I think they're gonna be really good. And that's why we think this is a really good win for us." - Mike Krzyzewski on #PennState
— Andrew Callahan (@ACallahan_247) November 19, 2016
The stats underline where the discrepancies are between these two teams. Penn State's usual foul issues plagued them again today, while Duke's talent and experience shone through, especially on defense. Jefferson was especially awesome, limiting Mike Watkins and Julian Moore to just six points between them.
Turnovers could've killed Penn State today, but for the most part the ball was handled with care when it was in the hands of a Nittany Lion. That's yet another sign that this team should be playing at a high tempo.
- Tony Carr - The point guard came into school with a reputation as a playmaker, and make plays he did against Duke. His three credited assists hardly tell the story, as everything ran through Carr on offense. It's not a stretch to say he was the best freshman on the floor today, though Duke's Frank Jackson (17 points) might argue otherwise.
- Lamar Stevens - He fouled out in 31 minutes, but Stevens was his usual bruising, efficient self to the tune of 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks. His finishing left little to be desired, and if there's any complaint with Stevens it's that he didn't look for his own shot a little more. A three-point shot would turn him into a surefire star.
- Payton Banks - This team needs a consistent outside shooter to pair with Garner, and they may have one in Banks. The Cali native went 3 for 8 from distance today, lowering his season percentage to 43%. That's still an awesome number for Banks, who shot just 31% last season, and it's another sign of Carr's impact on this team.
- Shep Garner - You can sense that Shep is shouldering a lot of responsibility. He's been playing with his turbo button stuck through four games, and he's been less effective because of it. 7-14 is a perfectly fine afternoon, but some ill-advised looks contributed to the first-half deficit.
- Mike Watkins - Watkins got a lesson in effective post play from Jefferson today. His fellow Philly native finished with 16 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks filling in at the five for Jeter. Mike's got the talent to be great Big Ten big man, but he still needs some polish.
- Terrence Samuel - T-Sam does everything a coach wants a player to do, but he's still not much of a threat in a half-court offense. He had a few highlight plays in the open court today.
- Julian Moore - Penn State needs him to play big to win when Watkins isn't producing. Moore didn't do that today.
- Davis Zemgulis - He returned from concussion-like symptoms to little effect aside from a few untimely fouls. He's still working to find his footing in this team.
- Nazeer Bostick - Bostick avoided a four trillion by nabbing a steal. He had a ball slip through his hands at a crucial moment down eight in crunch time, but the pass from Garner was not delivered with much care.