DURHAM — Playing the last-place ACC team three days after playing the squad ranked No. 1 in the nation comes with challenges.
“I mean, it’s tough,” Rodney Hood said of getting up to play Virginia Tech (9-18, 2-13 ACC) after spending last week in tight, emotional games with North Carolina and Syracuse.
The Blue Devils were winded at times and dragged heavy legs around during their 66-48 win against the Hokies on Tuesday night – a win that clinched a double-bye into the ACC tournament quarterfinals – Hood and Jabari Parker said. Those were the byproducts of the four-games-in-eight-days stretch that ran from Saturday to Saturday.
They found no sympathy from the coaching staff – in fact, Mike Krzyzewski was on their case even earlier in the night than normal.
After seeing a lackluster warm-up about 90 minutes before the game, Krzyzewski took his players off the floor and back into the locker room and gave them a tongue-lashing.
With a renewed focus, the No. 6 Blue Devils (23-6, 12-4) took the floor and carried that spark through the first 10 minutes of the game as they built a 24-4 lead.
Through 12 minutes, the Hokies had more turnovers (five) than points (four). Duke’s defense was so air-tight early on that the Hokies struggled just to get shots up, starting 2-of-13 from the field. It takes time getting used to Krzyzewski’s verbal delivery method, Sulaimon said. When asked if he became acclimated to it sometime last season, he half-laughed and said that came this season.
“We can’t just listen to the language or the volume of it, we just have to listen to the message,” Sulaimon said. “You just have to trust the people that are giving you constructive criticism. There’s no better person to trust than Coach K. You can’t really listen to how he’s saying it, you just have to listen to what the message is.
“It takes a lot of getting used to, but once you fully buy in and trust, it’s pretty easy.”
To the Hokies’ credit, they didn’t pack it in when nothing was going right early in the game. With Duke leading 24-5, Virginia Tech went on a 12-2 run, thanks to a 7-0 personal run from C.J. Barksdale, who chased Josh Hairston off the court just three possessions after he entered. Hairston’s final act in his two minutes was to heave an airball – it’s been a rough stretch for the senior captain, who has only played in two of Duke’s past five games, for seven minutes, total.
Tired legs affected Duke’s ability to hit shots. The Blue Devils shot 36.1 percent form the field in the first half and 38.7 percent for the game. Virginia Tech actually shot at a better clip than Duke in each half, but Duke’s 14 offensive rebounds helped negate that edge.
The Hokies, dealing with injury issues on top of general talent issues, were just too overmatched, and Duke led by double digits for the last 13:10 of the game.
Krzyzewski compared playing Tuesday night to squeezing the last little bit out of the end of a tube of toothpaste, pushing and coaxing out all the tube as to give. That’s what the Blue Devils did, and now their reward is a seven-day break from games.
Krzyzewski had said earlier in the week he would like to get the Blue Devils two days off during that stretch, but he also said the team needed to review game film closer now that they don’t have another opponent to prepare for immediately.
“Coach might say two days off, but after you watch tape,” he said, “it might go down a little bit.”