The No. 21 Duke Blue Devils earned their biggest road win of the year Monday, an 84-74 victory over the No. 20 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Duke had lost three of its last five games, but Monday's win improved their record to 17-5 overall and 5-4 in the ACC with extra momentum heading into the home stretch. Notre Dame fell to 17-6 overall and 6-4 in conference play with its third loss in a row and fourth in five games.
Duke's bench provided just six points but its stars came through, as Jayson Tatum, Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Matt Jones each scored at least 16 points.
Tatum was especially impressive, finishing with 19 points and 14 rebounds while aggressively attacking the rim. Allen, who made big shots throughout the game, ended up with 21 points, five rebounds and three assists.
As a team, the Blue Devils hit 51.9 percent of their shots from the field and went 23-of-24 from the free-throw line.
ESPN's Dana O'Neil provided her thoughts on Duke's performance:
V.J. Beachem was the top offensive player for Notre Dame with 20 points, though he slowed down late. While he recorded two steals and two blocks, he mixed in some weak possessions on the defensive end.
Bonzie Colson added 17 points, nine rebounds and two blocks, but the rest of Notre Dame's starters didn't offer much help.
Pete Sampson of Scout.com described the lack of balance:
Outside of Beachem and Colson, the Irish were just 9-of-30 from the field in a disappointing effort on both ends of the court.
The two sides traded baskets early in what seemed like it would be an evenly matched game. The score was tied at 19-19 around 12 minutes into the contest.
The biggest villain on the court helped Duke pull away from there, as Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated described:
The fans booed every time Allen had the ball, but he had no problems scoring early.
However, it was the defense that helped the Blue Devils build a 12-point lead at halftime. Angelo Di Carlo of WNDU-TV noted Notre Dame's struggles on offense:
Duke closed the half on a 21-6 run during which the Irish didn't make a field goal—and they didn't score after the 3:41 mark.
Sam Vecenie of Sporting News explained the two sides of the struggle:
Notre Dame looked better offensively at the start of the second half, making its first four shots to cut the deficit to five in a hurry. However, when the team tried to crawl back into the game, a few questionable calls killed the momentum.
ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman described the problem:
Head coach Mike Brey received a technical foul after arguing a Duke foul that was called on the floor instead of in the act of shooting. A couple of Kennard free throws then extended Duke's lead to 45-34 early in the second half.
Stephen Wiseman of the Herald-Sun described the challenge the Irish faced while trying to come back:
Duke went up 63-50, and it appeared as though the visitors were ready to pull away for an easy win. However, the home team woke up with 12 straight points to cut the deficit to one, 63-62, before an Allen three-pointer ended the run.
Both Amile Jefferson and Kennard fouled out with over three minutes remaining, but poor play on the defensive side of the ball thwarted Notre Dame's comeback effort.
Tim O'Malley of Scout.com described the lack of focus on that end:
The 63-62 nail-biter turned into a blowout again as the Blue Devils built a 78-66 advantage and eventually held on for a 10-point win.
Duke will hope its last two victories help turn around its season. The Blue Devils will prepare for a matchup against last-place Pittsburgh at home Saturday before welcoming North Carolina to town for its first matchup of the season against the Tar Heels on Feb. 9.
Notre Dame's slide could get worse with a road trip to UNC on Saturday. It's clear that there are few easy days at the office in the ACC.
Although Duke has not lived up to expectations this season, the last couple of wins could show the squad is heading in the right direction.
"We're becoming the team we want to be," Kennard said after the game, per Hamilton.
"Everything starts for us on defense," Kennard added, per the team's official Twitter account. "We really locked in. We limited a really good team, especially in the first half."
The Irish scored 49 points in the second half but just 25 in the first, which helped Duke take control of the game.
As for Notre Dame, head coach Mike Brey still sees signs of life.
"We are getting smacked hard right now but we are getting smacked together," Brey said, per Laken Litman of the Indy Star.
It's always good to find positives during a three-game losing streak.