Editor's note: This story incorrectly reported that Pittsburgh's Lamar Patterson shot 4-for-4 from the field in a men's basketball loss to Duke on Monday night. Patterson shot 4-for-14.
PITTSBURGH - Earlier in his career, Andre Dawkins tended to have breakout games, games in which it just seemed he couldnt miss. He hadnt quite had one yet, but Duke assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski kept telling him it was coming.
"I felt really good in shootaround today," Dawkins said after No. 17 Dukes 80-65 win at No. 18 Pittsburgh. "Wojo has been telling me the last few days that one of these games Im going to explode, so today was that day."
Dawkins, coming off the bench, went 6-for-7 from behind the arcwith four coming in the last eight minutesas he scored 20 points in his 15 minutes on the floor. As a team, the Blue Devils, who rank ninth nationally in 3-point field goal percentage, hit 52 percent of their attempts (13-of-25).
Both Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Pitt coach Jamie Dixon agreed Dawkins was the difference. Before Dawkins lone 2-point basketa tip in off of an offensive reboundthe game had been in the single digits, with Duke leading 52-51. That basket, though, was the start of an 18-6 Blue Devils run that would put them ahead by 13 points, thanks in large part to three 3s from Dawkins.
"Dawkins was the key in the second half. He was open, and that falls upon us," Dixon said. "We tried different things. Our zone gave up two open 3s, we adjusted on some things guarding the handoffs and ball screeens, and we didnt do those well."
While there was some debate amongst the Duke players as to whether this was their best game of the year, it was unquestionably their biggest winon the road, against a ranked opponent that was in second place in the ACC, with just a loss at Syracuse.
An on-campus record crowd of 12,944, with some students camping out overnight in below freezing temperatures, witnessed the first Krzyzewski-led visit to Pittsburgh. And they saw a much improved Duke team.
For the second straight game, Duke was able to neutralize an opponents physical advantage in the paint. There had been 27 offensive rebounds against a taller Florida State Saturday. Three days later, against a Pittsburgh team renowned for its physicality, the Blue Devils outscored the Panthers in the paint (28 points compared to 16) and were able to turn 11 offensive rebounds into 20 second chance points (Pitt had just seven points to show for its 10 boards off the offensive glass). And, by Dixons count, the Blue Devils were able to score off of six different inbounds plays, including a 3-pointer that came from one of their offensive boards.
In typical Duke fashion, though, the Blue Devils attributed their offensive success to their improved play at the other end.
"In order for us to win, we have to play defense," Rodney Hood said. "It might sound simple, but its not that easy with a young group. Weve been figuring it out."
Hood drew the toughest assignment, guarding Pitts point forward, the 6-foot-5 Lamar Patterson, who leads the Panthers in both points and assists. Hood was able to render him ineffective, as Patterson shot 4-of-14 from the field, finishing with 14 points, with just one assist against five turnovers.
Both Hood and Krzyzewski attributed some of the successful bottling of Patterson to switches on ball screens, when Dukes big men would pick him up and not let him streak free for an easy basket.
Two months and three days agoan eternity in college basketballit was hard to imagine switches helping the Duke defense, as the Blue Devils inability to pull those off effectively led to a near-disaster, 91-90 win against Vermont.
But theyve gotten better. Its as simple as that. And it was easy to see on Monday night, the end of a three games in six days stretch (Krzyzewski calls these segments in a season energy cycles).
Now its on to the next cycle, which will start Saturday at No. 2 Syracusethe other new power player in the ACC. Bringing 3-point shooting like Dawkins had at Pitt is advised.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley