DURHAM — After Duke finished going through the motions in the second half of its discomforting 83-76 win over St. Johns on Saturday afternoon, its locker room was almost as somber as it was last week when the Blue Devils lost to Florida State.
There are times when a win is not a win.
We did enough to win, which almost makes me sick to say that, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. I hate saying that we did enough to win. Thats not who I am, and its not who this program is. We dont do enough to win we play really good basketball, and then hopefully we win.
To me, it was like a loss. I didnt like today.
An argument could be made that the eighth-ranked Blue Devils (18-3) played good basketball in the first half against the Red Storm (9-12), building a 45-29 halftime lead that crested at 54-32 early in the second. If there were a script for Saturday -- Duke avenges last year's embarrassing loss to St. John's with a workmanlike effort against a Red Storm team that had lost six of its previous eight games -- the game seemed to be following it.
But the Blue Devils nodded off before reading to the end.
Moe Harkless and DAngelo Harrison shredded the Duke defense, repeatedly getting good looks en route to scoring 30 and 21 points, respectively.
St. Johns took advantage of the Blue Devils lackadaisical defense to close within 63-56 with 9:12 remaining. The Red Storm didnt get closer than that until the final minute, cutting Dukes lead to four points when Harrison made a 3-pointer with 20.7 seconds left.
The Blue Devils made their free throws in the final seconds, and St. Johns essentially ran out of time.
The fact Duke held on did little to assuage the players' disappointment.
Something has to change from the way we approach the game to the way we execute during the game, said Ryan Kelly, who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. Mason Plumlee also had a large hand in the win, finishing with 15 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.
The problem, Dukes players said, was that the team coasted after it went up 22 points following Austin Rivers' made free throw with 17:09 remaining. There were a few good moments after that, but they can all be encompassed with one sentence: Rivers had a pair of nifty drives to the basket on consecutive possessions, and Seth Curry also got to the basket for nice layup.
Guys werent aggressive on either end of the court, Kelly said. When that happens, were not that good of a basketball team. We showed that again tonight.
Added Rivers, "We got comfortable, maybe. I just think our intensity wasn't there. Coach K was so angry with us because our intensity wasn't there."
Of course, Duke has been talking about defense and intensity ever since its blowout loss to Ohio State. The issue flared up again in its loss to Temple, and the Blue Devils have shown a habit of taking their foot off the gas in a couple of their ACC wins (Georgia Tech and Virginia, most notably).
Why Duke hasnt been able to change its tendencies is something that has Krzyzewski perplexed.
Im going to read all my books and see what Im missing because theres something missing, he said. Its not resonating with our team.