Duke ‘lucky to win,’ escapes Vermont 91-90

lkeeley@newsobserver.comNovember 24, 2013 

— There was no sugarcoating Duke’s last-second 91-90 win over Vermont on Sunday. No one bothered to try to do that.

“This was an unacceptable performance,” a somber Mike Krzyzewski said. “We were lucky to win.”

Rodney Hood took it one step further.

“To me, it feels like a loss,” he said.

Most upsetting to Krzyzewski was the fact that his team didn’t respect the Catamounts (1-5) or the game, thinking they could just show up and win. That’s something he has rarely felt about any of his Duke teams, but that’s how he felt tonight about his No. 6 Blue Devils (5-1)

“You’re going to have questions, and you’re going to pick different parts of the game, and I’m going to just tell you we were awful,” he said. “And you’re going to say, what are we going to do to correct that, and I’m going to say, we’re going to try not to be awful.”

Duke hasn’t lost a nonconference home game since Feb. 26, 2000, a one-point, 83-82 defeat to St. John’s. But this game was tied with 10 seconds remaining on the clock, thanks to a four-point Vermont play.

Rasheed Sulaimon, from the ground, fouled Candon Rusin on a long 3-point attempt. Rusin made his free throw, tying the game at 90-90 and setting up one last chance for Duke. Rodney Hood took the ball the length of the floor, drew a foul, missed one free throw but made the other. But he left six seconds on the clock, forcing Duke to do something they did sparingly all night: force a defensive stop.

Rusin made it down to the baseline, but he didn’t let the ball go in time. The Blue Devils were saved by the final bell. There were no smiles as they exited.

The Catamounts did return six of their top seven scorers from a 21-win team last year, but they had struggled early in this season. Vermont entered the game shooting 39.7 percent from the field. Sunday night in Cameron, they shot 64.8 percent. When the game was tied for the first time in the second half at 71-71 with 7:51 left, the percentage was 70.6 percent.

“We didn’t really run any plays,” Vermont head coach John Becker said. “We just ran a ball screen motion, and our guys did a really good job finding each other.”

The Catamounts’ 21 assists on 35 baskets says Becker was right. Hood said the Blue Devils either helped or over-helped and that Vermont point guard Brian Voelkel picked them apart. The Catamounts scored reliably on baseline, back-door cut, as Duke’s “5” man – Amile Jefferson or Josh Hairston, primarily – failed to pick up the streaking cutter. Clancy Rugg finished with 20 points on 9-of-11 shots. Vermont scored 50 of its 90 points in the paint.

UNC Asheville was the first team to face Duke with the goal of spreading the floor to open up driving lanes, an offense head coach Nick McDevitt said was basically four corners. East Carolina did the same, adding a few more ball screens and more motion. Vermont followed suit, perfecting the game plan.

And at this point, there’s a pretty clear opinion on how to stop Duke on the other end of the floor – play a 2-3 zone. That, too, was an idea Becker picked up from ECU.

“I hate playing zone, but that is what we going to have to do,” Becker said, responding to a question about the new emphasis on hand checks and minimizing charges in order to open up the game.

Both Hood and Quinn Cook said Duke hasn’t been practicing a zone of its own. Krzyzewski was asked about it, too. He noted his team’s lack of communication on the defensive end and then paused.

“Nothing works well if you don’t work well.”

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