East Rutherford, New Jersey-- There's a reason the Duke Blue Devils are 10-0 and ranked No. 2 in the polls. Much of that has to do with the play of their superstar freshman Jahlil Okafor.
Behind a 12 point, 8 rebound and 2 assist effort from Okafor, Duke was able to outlast the Huskies, 66-56. His impact, however, went beyond the numbers.
"He's a rare talent," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He played with great poise in the second half. He knew when to go and when not to go. There aren't many guys like him."
Okafor, the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft should he come out, controlled on both sides of the floor. Offensively, the UConn big guys, Amida Brimah in particular, had only one answer on how to stop him: fouling. In the first half alone, Brimah, Phil Nolan, Rakim Lubin, and Kentan Facey each picked up at least 2 fouls, many of them against Okafor. UConn's strategy throughout was to send a hard double team at Okafor, but the freshman responded well-- consistently finding the open man around the perimeter. His court vision and passing ability are beyond his years.
Duke got all of their production from their starting five. Freshman guard Tyus Jones led the Blue Devils with 21 points, drawing praise from his coach.
"What Tyus did, with Boatright on him most of the game, was big," Krzyzewski said. "Boatright is the best guard we've played against this year."
Boatright finished with a game high 22 points. At times, he seemed to be the only UConn player concerned with putting the ball in the basket. Only four other Huskies registered baskets, and only three had more than one make.
"I'm going to be double teamed a lot, especially when I'm scoring like that. We need another guard to step up, the way I did last year with Shabazz (Napier)," Boatright said. "We need to shoot better. If you're wide open, you got to have confidence to shoot the ball."
For all the problems the UConn offense displayed tonight, the Huskies had a chance to steal this game in the last few minutes. Defensively, UConn was able to hold Duke's offense to 21 points below their season average. The Blue Devils shot just 38% from the field, including just 5-19 from three point range. Duke was able to do their damage at the free throw line. Duke had a 34-13 free throw attempt disparity. With them hitting 25 of those, the foul shooting was the difference in the contest.
"They killed us at the foul line," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "Our defense was great but it wasn't enough. We have to find a way to make game winning plays. Okafor missed two free throws, but they get a put-back layup. (Justise) Winslow hits a three late in the shot clock."
For all the disappointment that tonight brought, the Huskies played their best game of the season. But, there are no moral victories. At 4-4 and two marquee losses, UConn is in a funk. The defending national champions are a far cry from living up to that mantel. With conference play right around the corner, the Huskies find themselves searching for answers. For tonight in the Izod Center, all they found was a Duke team that was out of their class.