Is the home court advantage gone?

Blue Devils have lost twice at home in last three-and-a-half weeks

jdaly@newsobserver.comFebruary 16, 2012 

— Cameron Indoor Stadium has long been a source of home-court strength for Duke, but the Blue Devils are realizing its benefits are no longer a given.

In the past three-and-a-half weeks, No. 5 Duke (21-4, 8-2 ACC) has lost twice at home, and while it is hardly cause for hysteria, it nonetheless contrasts with the team's usual M.O. Duke entered the year having lost more than one game at Cameron only once in the last 10 seasons. Before stumbling to Florida State on Jan. 21, the Blue Devils had a 74-2 home record since the start of the 2007-08 campaign.

In just one example of the extent of Duke's home dominance, N.C. State (18-7, 7-3) will be trying to win in Durham for the first time since 1995 when the teams face off tonight (9 p.m. WRAL). The last time the Wolfpack defeated a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team at Cameron was 1988.

"It has been a long time, a very long time," said N.C. State sophomore forward C.J. Leslie of the Wolfpack's 1995 win. "I was 4."

If N.C. State cannot take solace in its recent history, it can at least find a measure of encouragement from the fact the Blue Devils aren't the usual juggernauts at Cameron. Of Duke's five home conference games so far, all were close in the second half, with the exception of a blowout win over Wake Forest.

"Your team is different every year," Duke assistant coach Chris Collins said. "You always have new guys and young guys. They have grown up watching the same thing - watching Duke teams win and be very successful.

"Sometimes you get away from the formula of why you've won. I think we might have done that a little bit, and it's not just the players - it's everybody. It's the coaches, it's the fans."

That formula, first and foremost, stresses not resting on one's laurels.

After Duke struggled through a lifeless first half to Miami and ultimately lost in overtime on Feb. 5, a number of Blue Devils players suggested the team was taking winning in Cameron for granted.

To compensate, the coaching staff has encouraged the players to adopt their road mindset while at home. Duke hasn't lost away from Cameron this ACC season.

"When we're on the road, we've been a really close team in that everybody is up against us, and we've found a way to win those road games," Duke junior Ryan Kelly said. "A lot of that has to do with coming together and being a real close team. You have to be on the road. At times, at home, we haven't been the same.

"Our focus hasn't totally been on just winning the game. Our focus needs to be only on winning and whatever is necessary to win the game."

Three days after its thrilling victory over UNC, Duke endured another mediocre half at home, leading Maryland by only three points at the break of Saturday's game. After Duke pulled away in the second half and cruised to an 18-point victory, Krzyzewski said he thought his team might be trying too hard.

"A team can feel some pressure, like you have to win," Krzyzewski said. "I don't know that that's the case, but I think there's probably something to that. I thought in the second half against Maryland, we were looser, we were talking more.

"Our guys have done an outstanding job. They care, but sometimes you can care individually and forget about the talk you have to have to be a collective unit. I think that's happened a little bit at home."

Beyond the wins and losses, Cameron has received attention for the fact students are not using their entire allotment of tickets. The empty seats were most noticeable in the loss to Miami on Super Bowl Sunday, when the Blue Devils struggled to find energy early in the game.

The student section was packed for Saturday's win over Maryland, although Krzyzewski yelled at students not to sit as he was walked past on his way to the locker room after the uneven first half. The students were standing when Krzyzewski came out following halftime, and after the game, Krzyzewski stopped and applauded their contributions.

"Overall, what I've loved about the students here is when they are able to own our team," Krzyzewski said during a radio interview earlier this week on WCMC-99.9. "In other words, they're part of our team. Most of the time, they've done that. Basically, what we're trying to do is have them learn again or do it again."

From N.C. State's perspective, Duke's vulnerability - relatively speaking - at home this ACC season would seem to provide an opening to end its losing streak in Durham.

"We feel like we can come in and compete and steal one from them in Cameron," Wolfpack guard C.J Williams said.

With the rejuvenated Wolfpack and North Carolina still on its home schedule, along with Virginia Tech, there's a chance Duke could lose again at Cameron. If that were to happen, it would be the second time in 16 years that the Blue Devils have lost more than twice at home in one season.

That's not the kind of thing the Duke players want to be known for.

"We've got three games left here," freshman Austin Rivers said. "My main focus and the team's focus right now is we're going to be 3-0 here. That's the biggest focus right now."

Staff writer J.P. Giglio contributed to this report.

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