It’s not often that the Blue Devils give what they have to give and still come up on the losing end. But that’s exactly what happened in the 77-75 overtime loss to Utah Saturday afternoon in Madison Square Garden.
“I feel bad for them,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said of his team. “Our guys gave it their all, and they lost.”
Krzyzewski had suggested, partially in jest, that Duke’s adventures in playing without injured forward Amile Jefferson would be must-see TV. He was right about that, as the short-handed Blue Devils played an entertaining game and almost mounted a comeback.
The thought was that without Jefferson, the Blue Devils would have to shoot well and outscore opponents to make up for defensive deficiencies. But Duke shot just 30 percent from the floor in regulation and survived extensive foul trouble to force overtime. Marshall Plumlee had four fouls before the second half was four minutes old, and Grayson Allen played through the flu. All things considered, it was an impressive effort for Duke, even though it went for naught.
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Duke never stopped fighting – down 77-71 with 10.6 seconds left in overtime, Luke Kennard was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 6.7 seconds left. It swished through, and he made the free throw to cut the lead to 77-75. Utah had to burn its final timeout on the ensuing inbounds attempt, and then Dakarai Tucker dropped the inbounds pass, setting up one last Duke play with 6.4 seconds left.
Duke called timeout to set up its inbounds play under the basket, but the clock inadvertently started before Matt Jones inbounded the ball. This forced Duke to go to another play call on the fly, and it resulted in an open Brandon Ingram lay-up attempt.
But his shot rolled off the rim.
“It was a great option,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s point-blank. I felt bad for the kid. I mean, really bad.”
Ingram also had an opportunity for a dagger 3 with 30 seconds left in regulation and the score tied at 60. He had an open look from the top of the key but it wouldn’t fall, either. Ingram wasn’t alone with his shooting issues, as Duke shot a season-low 29.9 percent from the floor.
“The shots weren’t falling,” Plumlee said. “But the shots that we missed, I would want my guys to take time and time again. I’ll stand by them, wins and losses, taking those shots because I feel like they’re good ones.”
Allen clearly wasn’t himself after not eating much while dealing with flu-like symptoms over the past two days, and he finished with just seven points on 3-of-18 shooting. Most telling, the 87-percent career free-throw shooter went 0 of 2 from the line. He played 37 minutes, though, as the Blue Devils just don’t have the depth to play more than six guys for an extended period of time.
The Blue Devils looked cooked when Plumlee picked up his third and fourth foul about 20 seconds apart in the opening minutes of the second half. The Utes ripped off a 9-0 run in response and had Duke in the danger zone, down 42-33.
Duke responded, though, with an 18-2 run midway through the second to climb back into the game and build a 49-44 lead. To start the run, there were no post players on the floor as Ingram, Allen, Matt Jones, Kennard and Derryck Thornton made it work. When Utah brought back future 7-foot lottery pick Jakob Poeltl back with 12 minutes, 14 seconds remaining, Krzyzewski countered with Plumlee’s return. Plumlee played smart enough to stay on the floor without picking up his final foul until there were 39.2 seconds left in overtime.
“It was crazy to look around and see Brandon Ingram as the tallest player on your team,” Jones said. “ We were just going to fight, whoever was out there. Our mentality was just to fight.”
Duke fought well. The effort was unquestionably there. But it wasn’t enough to pull out the win.
“Games like this will ultimately make us better,” Jones said. “We can look back on this game and go, OK, we can fight when we’re in a close game, we can make certain plays to keep us in it, things like that.
“As far as effort, I’m very proud of the team, and coach is proud of us as well. We gave it our all.”