Heading into the season, many saw this seasons Duke squad as one that lacked the talent to compete for a late run in the NCAA tournament. But after wins against three top-five teams in Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State, Duke ascended to the No. 1 ranking.
Even after all that success, not many pinned Duke to remain undefeated at the end of the season. And with Ryan Kelly, the Blue Devils highest percentage 3-point shooting player injured, Duke lost its first game of the season to N.C. State on Saturday.
Were not a great team with Ryan, but were a really good team, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. Were better than our parts when we have all of our parts together. You lose a part, whoever that is Seth (Curry), Ryan or Mason (Plumlee), especially and theres going to be hiccups.
Most of those hiccups came from behind the arc for Duke. The Devils came into the game ranked sixth in 3-point shooting percentage at 42.1 percent, but were held to a 30-percent clip by the Wolfpack.
Even N.C. State forward Scott Wood acknowledged that he wants another crack at Duke when its at full strength.
Its tough because theyre not 100 percent, Wood said. Currys a little beat up, Kellys a little beat up so Id like to play with them at 100 percent. You want to play against the best, and a couple of them werent out there.
With the cast that Duke has this season, Krzyzewski has repeatedly said his team has over performed to this point. After all that has been accomplished this season, the loss to N.C. State may be a setback, but it might help in the long run.
With Kelly on the sidelines, forwards Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson got valuable minutes in a hostile situation. Not to say that earlier games when they played werent valuable, but knowing that Kelly wouldnt be there as a safety blanket added pressure.
For Jefferson, its hard to imagine a tougher situation than playing in Raleigh, after a recruiting battle between the two teams left Wolfpack fans feeling scorned over his decision.
I knew I could come in and try to help, Jefferson said.
Im definitely confident. I was a little nervous, but not much. Once I got out there, I was fine. Just got to make these adjustments now. I thought we played really good, but weve got to play better.
As for Currys injury, it appears to just be a tweak that should not keep him out. Krzyzewski said it was due to a wet spot on the floor.
Heading into a home matchup with Georgia Tech, the starting lineup might remain the same for Duke. But the next game for the Blue Devils comes nearly a week later at Miami.
Those two games might give Dukes usual first line off the bench some more time to grow before a stretch of games that includes Maryland, Florida State and another contest against N.C. State, in Durham.
Amile and Josh had (combined) 18 (points) and nine (rebounds) today, Krzyzewski said Saturday. They just dont know the defense and the execution of the offense as well as Ryan does. Im not asking for anyones sympathy, its just the way it is.
Were going to run our race and see where that ends and see what the heck happens.