DURHAM — The Blue Devils should prepare for each opponent the same, Rodney Hood said. But human nature can make that difficult.
“Everybody gets up to play the big teams,” Hood said after Duke’s 81-65 win over Division-II Drury. “It’s hard to play against teams that you think are not that good. They proved it today, and it showed.”
The Panthers, reigning D-II champions, led 38-34 at the half, and their motion offense gave the No. 4-ranked Blue Devils trouble on the defensive end, or, as head coach Mike Krzyzewski put it, “they carved us up in the first half.”
About that Duke preseason ranking, though…
“You know, when you’re predicted to do something, sometimes those predictions are based on what people think our potential is,” Krzyzewski said. “All of our stuff is on potential. We are a really young basketball team that needs to get better, and we will get better.”
Drury head coach Steve Hesser said he thought Duke looked lethargic in the first half, an assessment that Hood, who led the team 21 points (along with nine rebounds and four assists), echoed in the postgame locker room – once the door was opened. The Blue Devils took more than 20 minutes after the game before inviting the media in, which was much longer than normal.
Hood also let the team know he wasn’t pleased with the performance at halftime.
“I’m not a hollering type guy, but I always say what needs to be said,” Hood said. “At halftime, I said what needed to be said.”
Without going into specifics, Hood said it was a speech designed to light a fire under his teammates.
“Just come out with a sense of urgency,” Hood said about his halftime message. “Not worried about the score and what people are going to say after the game. Stay in the moment and win the game.”
A Quinn Cook 3-pointer with 15:01 left in the game tied the score at 44-44. Duke took the lead for good on a Josh Hairston lay-up two possessions later, part of a 12-2 Blue Devils run.
Amile Jefferson had a particularly strong second half and finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds, eight of which came on the offensive glass. Jabari Parker and Cook also contributed 13 points apiece.
After posting just four first-half assists and forcing six turnovers, Duke finished with 13 dimes and 17 forced turnovers. And after Drury grabbed nine offensive rebounds in the opening half (against 10 defensive rebounds for Duke), the Blue Devils limited the Panthers, who didn’t have a player taller than 6 foot 6, to two offensive boards in the final 20 minutes.
“To me, it was pretty simple,” Krzyzewski said. “In the second half, we worked hard together.”
Hood was far and away the leader in minutes played, with 36. Parker and freshman guard Matt Jones, who Krzyzewski said hasn’t had a bad day of practice, clocked in next with 28 minutes apiece. Tyler Thornton, who started, played 25 minutes; Cook 24; and Amile Jefferson 21. Every scholarship player appeared in the game except Rasheed Sulaimon.
Sulaimon had been battling an illness that had him in and out of practice last week, but his teammates didn’t know prior to the game that he wouldn’t play. He was dressed in uniform and frequently jumped from the bench to celebrate and encourage his teammates.
“Rasheed has not been in top health yet,” Krzyzewski said when asked why he didn’t play. “And hopefully this week he will get himself in shape.”
That’s something that could be said for all the Blue Devils, who will officially open the season Nov. 8 against Davidson.
“If we come out unfocused and play like we did today, they’ll kill us,” Thornton said.
“I’ll put a lot on my shoulders,” Hood added. “We just have to get better, man. It’s time for the season.”