Duke's Marvin Bagley III (35) pulls in a rebound from Notre Dame's TJ Gibbs Jr. (10) during the first half. Chuck Liddy cliddy@newsobserver.com
Duke's Marvin Bagley III (35) pulls in a rebound from Notre Dame's TJ Gibbs Jr. (10) during the first half. Chuck Liddy cliddy@newsobserver.com

Luke DeCock

Marvin Bagley destroys Notre Dame, silly narratives at same time

By Luke DeCock


March 08, 2018 09:29 PM

New York

There was blood on the back of Marvin Bagley III's jersey and he needed a second-half pit stop to make a track-bar adjustment to his right index finger and Bonzie Colson hung off him like a bad suit, and still nothing could stop him.

This was a good night for Duke and a bad game for bad narratives. Bagley and Grayson Allen somehow managed to coexist for a combined 56 points. Trevon Duval struggled at times despite his 11 assists – even missing an unobstructed dunk attempt – and it didn't matter. Colson thrived in the middle of the Duke zone and Martinas Geben was a force on the boards, and Duke had more firepower anyway.

It's probably too much to say this 88-70 win over Notre Dame disproved all the junk basketball science theories about Duke, but it went a long way toward dispelling them as the Blue Devils, 5-0 in Brooklyn, advanced to the semifinals to face the North Carolina-Miami winner.

"We don't have it all figured out yet," Bagley said. "We're still learning, one thing at a time. But I definitely think that we're getting better and we're continuing to grow as a team, and there's not a better time to grow than in March when we're getting into tournaments and stuff like that. It's a perfect time for us to continue to come together and play at our best."

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There was, of course, the idea based on Duke's solid play during Bagley's four-game absence with a knee injury that the Blue Devils were somehow better off without him because it allowed Allen, among others, to thrive. That looks positively silly based on Bagley's play against North Carolina and Notre Dame. He had 18 of his 21 in the second half against the Tar Heels and, if anything, was even more dominant Thursday against the Irish with 33 points and 17 rebounds on 15-for-23 shooting, a Duke tournament record for field goals.

The players who need to get the ball are getting the ball for Duke, even if it has taken a while to get to this point.

"It's way better," said Duke's Gary Trent Jr. "Everybody is sharing the ball. Everybody is touching it. Everybody is getting a flow to it. We are moving as one right now."

The other half-baked theory to come out of the North Carolina win, when the Blue Devils basically abandoned any offensive structure during their second-half comeback, was that Bagley only flourished because Duval was unleashed. There may have been some truth to that last week, but there wasn't much Thursday. What Bagley did, he did on his own.

As for the Duke zone, it managed to hold the Irish shooting trio of Matt Farrell, Rex Pflueger and T.J. Gibbs to 5-for-22 from 3-point range, even with Colson and Geben running wild inside. Some of that had to do with Notre Dame playing its third game in three nights, but not all of it.

Duke's Marvin Bagley talks about the momentum the Blue Devils have developed with improvement every game. Bagley led Duke in their win over Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament. The A

Not that anyone could do anything about Bagley, who is just too good. He dunks. He rebounds. He can create his own shot on the perimeter. He can drain 3s. Maybe the four-game break was what he needed to refocus and prepare for the postseason, because he has become that rare one-and-done freshman who is delivering exactly as promised, and destroying message-board theories and the misguided narratives of petty television analysts in the process.

And still, he's doesn't appear to be anyone's top pick in the NBA draft. Luka Doncic, the Slovenian star, is apparently legit, although who really knows? It's hard to compare Bagley and Doncic at this point. But Bagley is so powerful, so versatile, so dynamic and so NBA-ready, only a really bad team could talk itself into Arizona's Deandre Ayton instead at this point. Then again, it's really bad teams that end up in the lottery.

"Bagley was just the first pick in the draft," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "He made a couple, and I just said to myself, 'Wow, he's really good.'"

There's no point in worrying about Bagley's NBA future when there's still so much left to accomplish at Duke. The past two games have been a tour de force of individual stardom. If the second half of the North Carolina game created the impression that Bagley can put this team on his back and carry it, Thursday only reinforced it.

Duke's Trevon Duval talks about teammates Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley and playing UNC again after defeating Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament. Chuck Liddy

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock