As Syracuse beat Duke to rebound after rebound and ran ball-screen after ball-screen in the second half, the Blue Devils knew they had an answer to those problems on the bench.
The problem was that he was wearing a walking boot on his right foot.
Amile Jefferson sits in the middle of Duke’s bench during games, yelling out instructions and encouragement to his teammates. That’s nice, but it would be nicer to have him out on the court. Before he broke his foot in a practice during Duke’s exam break, Jefferson was averaging 10.3 rebounds in 30.3 minutes per game. And right now, teams are beating Duke where the Blue Devils miss Jefferson most.
In its 64-62 win Monday night, the Orange collected 16 second-half offensive rebounds, or 59.3 percent of all available rebounds at that end. Duke had just 11 defensive rebounds. Syracuse’s power forward, Tyler Roberson, grabbed 20 total rebounds – the most any opponent has ever pulled down in the history of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
And that’s who Jefferson would have been guarding. There is still no timetable for his return.
It is what it is. Obviously, we wish that Amile was out there, but we can’t really feel sorry for ourselves now.
Matt Jones, Duke guard
When faced with a problem with a visible but unattainable solution, frustration is bound to come.
“Yeah,” Matt Jones said when asked if it was frustrating to see Jefferson on the bench and know he would make a huge difference on the court.
“But” – Jones started before pausing – ”yeah.”
“But we can’t dwell on that because the teams we play, they don’t care,” he said. “It is what it is. Obviously, we wish that Amile was out there, but we can’t really feel sorry for ourselves now.”
It’s true, feeling sorry for themselves won’t stop Duke’s three-game losing streak, the program’s longest in nine years (the 2006-07 season ended with four straight losses). Playing four perimeter players alongside center Marshall Plumlee will make rebounding challenging, but the Blue Devils have to find a way to do a better job in that department if they want to win ACC games.
Monday night’s game would not have been close if the Orange had not struggled mightily to finish around the basket – Syracuse had just 17 second-chance points off of its 26 total offensive rebounds. And it’s no coincidence that the Orange had more success on the glass in the second half as Duke grew tired. Rebounding takes a significant amount of extra energy and effort, two things that can run short in a six-man rotation.
Plumlee led Duke with a career-high 17 rebounds, 11 on the offensive end. He willed himself to keep going up for rebounds and battling to finish inside. By the end of the game, it was hard for him to push his burning legs up and down the floor as the pain was evident on his face.
“I get tired, but Coach really emphasizes to not let tired beat you,” Plumlee said. “There are certain plays you have to make regardless of being tired or not.”
Plumlee can hear the coaches yelling instructions at him throughout the game, but there is one voice he tunes in more than the others: Amile Jefferson’s. He can give advice that comes from the experience of playing in the post with this team. And, of course, Plumlee wishes he could hear that voice on the floor.
When asked if he gets frustrated seeing Jefferson stuck on the bench, Plumlee gave two different answers. The first concerned his in-game mentality.
“That’s something that we consciously can’t think about right now because that mindset isn’t going to help anybody. As much as we love Amile and want him back, if we keep focusing on that, then our mind is not where it should be. We look to our left and our right. That’s what we’ve got right now. How can we come together and win?
“But now that the game is over and I’m just answering your question as a reporter, I love Amile,” Plumlee said. “We miss him. We want him to get healthy, and he is huge for our team in every sense of the word.”