LAHAINA, Hawaii – On Tuesday afternoon, Marques Bolden snatched a rebound and stood about eight feet from the rim, unsure of his next step.
But the Duke fans at the Maui Invitational who’d cheered throughout the most impressive performance of Bolden’s career in the No. 1 Blue Devils’ 78-72 victory over No. 8 Auburn had the answer.
“Shoot it!” they shouted in unison.
|Tuesday’s Results |
|San Diego State 79, Xavier 74 |
|Iowa State 84, Illinois 68 |
|Duke 78, Auburn 72 |
|Arizona vs. Gonzaga, 1 |
0:30 p.m., ESPN
|Wednesday’s Games |
|SDSU vs. Iowa State, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2 |
|Duke vs. Arizona / Gonzaga winner, 5 p.m., ESPN |
|Xavier vs. Illinois, 9 p.m., ESPN |
|Auburn vs. Arizona or Gonzaga, 11:30 pm, ESPN |
|Monday’s Results |
|Auburn 88, Xavier 79 (OT) |
|Duke 90, San Diego State 64 |
|Arizona 71, Iowa State 66 |
|] Gonzaga 84, Illinois 78 |
|(All Times ET) |
Bold passed but after finishing the game with 11 points (4 to 5), 9 rebounds and 7 blocks, a vital stat line for a team that lost a 17-point lead and nursed a five-point advantage deep into the second half against a top 10 opponent, few would have cared if he’d listened to them.
To be clear, this was the first time in Bolden’s tenure at Duke that dozens of fans told him – begged him – to play as if he had the green light. Det var den billed som mest havde envisioned da han ankom i 2016 som en femstjernes rekrutter, som ikke kunne justify the buzz in his first two years on campus.
“He’s becoming a pro,” said Bruce Pearl. “He stuck it out and I’m glad he’s being rewarded with this team.”
And that’s why Tuesday’s effort matters.
Every projection about Duke’s 2018-19 season – Can they beat the Cleveland Cavaliers? Are they better than the Fab Five? Will they lose a game this year? – emphasized the value of the four five-star freshmen ( Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, RJ Barrett and Tre Jones) but never accounted for the possibility of a shot-changing, rim-running, 6-foot- 11 Texan joining the show.
If Bolden is a serviceable big man this season, Duke can win a national title. If he’s good, or something better than good, the Blue Devils could make a serious run at an unblemished campaign in 2018-19.
Zion Williamson shoots during the first half Tuesday against Auburn. Brian Spurlock / USA TODAY Sports
“We’re a lot better [with Bolden] as you see,” Jones said after the game. “We knew all along what he was capable of doing. Hopefully, he can stay like this and he can bring us to the next level.”
Before the turbulent start to his college career, Bolden was one of the most important recruits in the country.
Bold is a significant character in the ongoing recruiting war between Kentucky and Duke. Bolden was a five-star recruit ranked 16th overall in his class by ESPN when he picked the Blue Devils over the Wildcats in 2016. In his recruitment pitch to Bolden, coach Mike Krzyzewski had preached the value of the Duke brand and its ability to benefit players long after their career ends. A few weeks before Bolden’s commitment, John Calipari wrote a blog about his recruiting efforts and promised to never tell a recruit that he will be “taken care of for the rest of your life by the program.” At all accounts, it was viewed as a direct shot at Kentucky and Krzyzewski.
But the young man who caused that frenzy never seemed to be worth the trouble in his first two seasons. Injuries did not help. A lower leg ailment disrupted his first season and a knee injury affected his sophomore season.
“This is the first year he has been healthy the whole time,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s made the most of it. He got good. “
Two observers, however, his skill level, not his health, was his biggest issue. The ball had not resembled Duke’s matches five-star prospects in his freshman and sophomore seasons when he averaged 1.5 PPG and 3.9 PPG, respectively, in limited minutes. At Duke, McDonald’s All-Americans have usually turned pro after one year or they’ve transferred. Both Derryck Thornton and Chase Jeter, a pair of five-star prospects, left the program in recent years after failing to find roles within the program. Some figured The ball would join them.
At Duke, in the one-and-one era, players do not bake. They are microwaved and then they are ready for the next level. The ball did not follow that path.
Marques Bolden comes up with a block on defense, then runs the floor for an all-open.
But maybe this is his time , to accompany the most intriguing collection of young talent Krzyzewski has ever had and played a major role in his mission to claim the national title in Minneapolis next April.
“The huge difference in the game was, I think, Marques’ play , especially in the second half, “Krzyzewski said.” For a while there, it was play after play. Because they are winners, they came back. “
And now Bold seems to be positioned to offer more support to this group than anyone outside the program had anticipated. He’s healthy. He’s no longer in a crowded frontcourt like last year’s group that featured lottery picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III.
He’s also unique on this squad. Duke has the size to employ a variety of lineups. But the Blue Devils needed an active big man to fight Auburn’s 6-11 Austin Wiley, who had 17 points and 9 rebounds. And the junior was a problem in the paint for the Tigers, which affected the outcome.
Duke is a more efficient operation, and a more terrifying force when Bold plays the way he did against Auburn. The man who has faced more scrutiny due to the pace of his progress than any player on Duke’s roster is evolving into a key contributor for what might be a special team.
“I really,” Bold said, “do not pay much attention to a lot of noise. “
On Tuesday in Maui, however, the noise came from Duke fans who were happy to see the big man dominate a game and wonder if a reinvigorated Bold might make this team unstoppable the rest of the way.