Postgame: Thoughts from Duke’s 80-65 win at Pittsburgh

Posted by Laura Keeley on January 29, 2014 

Duke's depth is getting credit for the recent defensive improvement.


— Standing and listening to Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon after Duke’s 80-65 win, I had déjà vu back listening to Mike Krzyzewski earlier in the season.

"It was the defensive end for us that stood out," Dixon said. "We simply didn’t get it done.

"We didn’t handle our assignments well enough, and, if we don’t, then it’s on me because I did not get the message across of what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it because our breakdowns were often, early and continued throughout the second half."

When asked about Lamar Patterson’s 4-for-14 shooting performance—and that’s a player Pitt considered a contender for national player of the year entering Monday night—Dixon again turned that into an opportunity to talk about defense.

"I also think we didn’t get stops, so we didn’t get transition baskets going," Dixon said. "That was especially in the second half."

After a Pitt beat reporter asked another offensively-themed question, Dixon, in a non-combative way, said, "You keep bringing up shots and this and that, and I’m afraid that’s what our guys were thinking. We had to get stops, and we didn’t do it."

Compare this to what Krzyzewski said in the aftermath of Duke’s 91-90 win over Vermont:

"No, we’re not good, there are 15 minutes to go in the game. And they’re shooting over 60 percent from the floor," he said on Nov. 24. "We just got one steal. It’s not good. Not good tonight."

That was the low point for Duke defensively. And most of the talk about Duke this year has centered on its defense, whether it was bad, improving, bad again or improving again. The Blue Devils didn’t quite reach on Monday the 64.8 field goal percentage the Catamounts had posted in November, but Duke did shoot 55.2 percent in the second half. And, as Dixon pointed out, of Duke’s 13 misses in the second half, six became offensive rebounds for the Blue Devils.

"Again, we put ourselves in a hole with our defense, and our offense became almost an afterthought, because if you can’t stop them, it doesn’t matter how many you score," Dixon said. "You’re not getting second shots, and they’re getting more than you are."

Duke’s 48.3 field goal percentage for the game was the third-highest for a Panthers’ opponent, topped by just Syracuse’s 51.2 percent (in a 59-54 win for the Orange) and 50 percent from Stanford in a non conference Pitt win.

Now, if you give weight to the 13 3s that the Blue Devils hit, Duke’s effective field goal percentage (which adjusts for the added value of three-pointers by counting them as 1.5 field goals) was 59.5 percent—and that is a season-high against Pitt (the Panthers’ opponents average a 45.9 percent in that category).

"If they felt that we were going to win playing defense like that," Dixon said of his players, "then I did not get the message across."

Duke has already had its defensive light bulb moment (one that Pitt will need if it wants to compete for the ACC title).

"We just figured it out. In order for us to win, we have to play defense," Rodney Hood said, as was written in the game story. "It might sound simple, but it’s not that easy with a young group."

Dixon was also careful to credit Duke for also playing well on offense —"I don’t want to take away from them because they made the shots, and they had the patience," he said at one point—just as Krzyzewski was equally careful to point out, indirectly, that the Panthers did play worse than they normally have this season.

"We played very well," Krzyzewski said. "Because they're a good team. If we played them again, we might not beat them."

But, thanks to the ACC’s unbalanced scheduling, that was the only shot Pitt got at the Blue Devils this regular season. Maybe they’ll play in the ACC Tournament. Odds are against that, though.

***The expanded rotation continued Monday night, with 10 guys again seeing the floor for Duke (freshman Semi Ojeleye is the only recruited scholarship player not in the regular rotation). At this point, all 10 guys are averaging at least nine minutes per game, rounding to the nearest minute. The depth helps with (drumroll)…defense.

"We’re just fighting on defense, playing our butts off on the defensive end," Andre Dawkins said. "Everybody is involved, everybody contributes to the win. We’re really using everyone we have. It keeps guys fresh, it keeps that energy for us on defense.

"In that Clemson game, our guys were a little worn down. Guys were tired. But now guys are playing a little bit fewer minutes. Obviously our main guys are still going to play a lot of minutes, but Rodney doesn’t have to play 40, Quinn (Cook) doesn’t have to play 40. It gives them a little bit of time to rest, go back out there and play as hard as they can."

The magic number for the Duke defense seems to be 1.07—as in points per possession. If the Blue Devils hold ACC opponents to that number or lower, they’re 6-0. Both Notre Dame and Clemson topped it (1.23 and 1.14, respectively).

As Amile Jefferson put it, "we’re all pieces to a great puzzle." And this year’s puzzle has more pieces than normal.

The only year this century that Krzyzewski has used this long of bench came in 2007-08—the team that lost to West Virginia in the round of 32—when 10 players averaged at least nine minutes a game, rounding up to the nearest minute (if you want more specifics, scroll down to the end of the post).

That year’s team was fairly young, and it contained the nucleus of the 2010 national championship team. This year’s team is also young, though it has a higher level of athleticism (no one in 2007-08 had the natural abilities of Jabari Parker and Hood, with all due respect to Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler). So maybe that advantage will translate until more immediate results in March.

***Pittsburgh is a place that’s near and dear to my heart—my family lived about 15 miles north of the city while I went to middle school and high school—and apparently Krzyzewski has favorable impressions of the area, too.

"This is a spectacular venue," he said of the Peterson Events Center. "This is the first time I’ve coached here. I was just really impressed with everything. It’s a beautiful arena, the crowd is terrific. There’s a great spirit, what an addition to the ACC. Until you experience it, you don’t know.

"For me, my mom grew up in Western Pennsylvania, near Uniontown, in a little village called Keisterville (about 50 miles South of the city). And so, we have a lot of respect for the people here. This is good people in this region. Really good people. I was so impressed when the Star Spangled Banner was being played. With the crowd (the students put their arms around each other and sway) I felt like, go USA. It was really good. You all are here all the time, this is my first time. I just had really favorable, very favorable impressions of everything."

***As promised, 2007-08 Duke

Player/ average minutes

DeMarcus Nelson/ 30.9

Kyle Singler/ 28.6

Gerald Henderson/ 26/2

Jon Scheyer/ 28.3

Greg Paulus/ 27.7

Lance Thomas/ 18.5

Nolan Smith/ 14.7

Brian Zoubek/ 10.5

Taylor King/ 9.7

Dave McClure/ 8.9

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