Duke needed toughness to survive an upset bid from the ACC’s last-place team on Saturday.
Having Mike Krzyzewski back on the bench for the first time in a month certainly provided some, but the Hall of Fame coach said his team has developed quite a bit of it on its own.
After struggling offensively in a slow-paced game, No. 21 Duke hit seven consecutive second-half shots to finally shake pesky Pittsburgh and post a 72-64 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
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The Blue Devils (18-5, 6-4 ACC) played with Krzyzewski coaching them for the first time since Jan. 4. The 69-year-old Krzyzewski had back surgery on Jan. 6 and missed seven games.
In the last two games without him, with associate head coach Jeff Capel as acting head coach, Duke won 85-83 at Wake Forest by overcoming a 10-point deficit in the final four minutes before topping No. 20 Notre Dame 84-74 last Monday in South Bend, Indiana.
“We won a really tough game at Wake and a really tough game at Notre Dame and a really tough one here,” Krzyzewski said. “We are tougher. We are more together.”
The Blue Devils now have a three-game winning streak, meaning they are finally stacking together wins like a team ranked No. 1 in the preseason should expect to do.
Running the streak to three wins in a row never came easily even though Pittsburgh (12-11, 1-9) has now lost eight consecutive games.
In a slugfest of a game, Duke shot 50 percent in the second half to reach a modest 45.5 percent for the game.
But Grayson Allen made five shots over the final 7:20 of the game, including four 3-pointers, as Duke finally pulled away.
Allen scored 21 points and Amile Jefferson 15 for Duke. Jayson Tatum added 12 points and Luke Kennard 10.
“I just kept shooting, and coach was telling me to keep shooting, and then they started to fall,” Allen said.
Pittsburgh shot 50 percent but hit just 2 of 14 3-pointers (14.3 percent).
“I thought we played really good defense,” Krzyzewski said. “They had been averaging nine made 3s a game.”
The score was tied at 28 at halftime because Duke went scoreless over its final eight possessions of the half to see a six-point lead disappear.
After seven lead changes and three ties over the first 11 minutes of the second half, Frank Jackson put Duke ahead for good, 45-43, by sinking a wide-open 3-pointer from the right corner.
Tatum added two free throws with 7:57 left for a 47-43 lead.
Michael Young hit two free throws for Pitt, but Allen drilled a 3-pointer for a 52-47 Duke lead.
When Jackson sank another 3-pointer with 5:47 left, Duke led 55-49.
Allen pushed the lead to nine – Duke’s largest of the game at that point – with a 3-pointer at 4:16 for a 60-51 lead.
That gave Duke seven consecutive made shots from the field over an eight-minute span.
But that still wasn’t enough to put away the ACC’s last-place team.
Three Pitt free throws cut the Duke lead to 60-54 and, after a Jackson missed 3-pointer, Jamel Artis hit a transition layup and added a free throw leaving Duke up 60-57 with 3:10 left.
But Allen sank a 3-pointer from the left corner with 2:58 left for a 63-57 Duke lead.
With Duke up by four points and less than a minute to play, Allen launched a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired. The ball hit the rim, bounced high in the air, and fell through the net with 49.7 seconds left for a 66-59 Duke lead.
When the game was over and postgame handshakes were done, Krzyzewski walked to center court with his hands in the air to acknowledge the crowd. He then bowed in their honor as they do to him before every home game.
“It was so good to be back,” Krzyzewski said. “I felt like crying when they started doing introductions. You forget how lucky you are until something is taken away from you. I’ve been so damn lucky to be in this conference and at this great school.”
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