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No. 3. Duke stresses defense ahead of Hartford tilt
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
Latest Line: Hartford NL O/U: NL
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DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke's offensive numbers are staggering in many ways, but the third-ranked Blue Devils are racking up defensive statistics of note as well.

With that, they're finding considerable rewards and will bid for another victory when facing visiting Hartford (3-6) on Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

"We learned that we can be a very special defensive team when we actually pick it up," freshman forward Zion Williamson said after the Blue Devils (7-1) drilled Indiana and Stetson last week.

"Coach (Mike Krzyzewski) is always stressing to us about defensive habits."

Much of Duke's defense has started with point guard Tre Jones, a freshman who didn't score in Saturday night's romp versus Stetson but provided seven assists without a turnover and was credited with three steals.

"Tre will guard that player full-court the whole time he's in the game," Williamson said of his teammate's normal matchup against the opponent's top backcourt player.

That opponent might be Hartford senior guard Jason Dunne, who averaged 22 points last week. Based on a loss to Sacred Heart and a victory against Bowling Green, Dunne was named the America East co-Player of the Week.

Duke ranks first nationally with 7.4 blocked shots per game and rates 10th with 10 steals per game. That's part of the defensive production that has the Blue Devils excited.

"We've really bought into playing defense and it has been a lot of fun," junior forward Javin DeLaurier said. "I think our defense will become our identity. It fits our personality and the personality of our team. We're at our best when we're playing defense, because then we get to get out and run and get in transition and score a lot of points."

A month into the season, RJ Barrett (23.1) and Williamson (20.8) are the only freshman duo in the country each averaging 20 or more points.

Coach John Gallagher's Hartford team has been off to a rough start after posting a 19-14 record last season. That was the most victories for the program as a Division I member.

"We intend to use this difficult slate to grow and prepare for the rigors of America East action," Gallagher said. "In addition, the national scope of this schedule will continue to advance the brand of Hartford basketball."

Four of the Hawks' six losses have come by single-digit margins.

Hartford, which has a senior-dominated roster, is also focused on how defense can make a difference.

"We're really detailed about how we're going to go about this year on the defensive end," Gallagher said. "Having all the seniors back and guys who have been through it, they know this is their last time around."

Yet this would appear to be another game in which Duke might be capable of overwhelming the opponent.

"Sometimes we may not be playing a Top 25 team per se, but we still have to come out," DeLaurier said. "Our coaches expect the same effort no matter who we're playing and who

our opponent is. We should treat every game the same way."

This is the middle contest of a five-game homestand for Duke.

It's the first meeting between Hartford and Duke.