After Duke’s fourth loss in its past five games, Matt Jones didn’t have words for his feelings.
“To be honest, I don’t know how it feels, really,” he said after Duke’s 80-69 loss at Miami. “It sucks losing.
“Miami is a really good team. I thought we fought tonight. It just sucks, really.”
There was a touch of resignation in Jones’ voice, but he was pretty matter-of-fact. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was entirely matter-of-fact.
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“They’re better than we are,” Krzyzewski said of Miami.
And it is that simple.
The Blue Devils took steps to try to fight against fatigue. They almost exclusively played a 2-3 zone that didn’t trap or pick up Miami players until over half-court. They played at a slower pace offensively, not pushing for transition opportunities. But still, in their second game in three days, the Blue Devils did look fatigued for most of the night and didn’t shoot well. Thus, the loss.
The 4-4 start to ACC play is the worst for the Blue Devils in 20 years, since Krzyzewski’s first season back after his back injury (1995-96).
After shooting 70 percent in the second half in Saturday’s win at N.C. State, Duke shot 3-of-14 to open the second half and trailed 47-39 with just over 11 minutes remaining. The Hurricanes ran the lead up to 14 points, 55-41 with nine minutes left. No. 24 Duke (15-6, 4-4 ACC) did find more offensive rhythm to get as close as five points, 60-55, with 5 minutes 13 seconds left, but the Hurricanes did not miss another shot from the field (8-for-8). Even a late switch to man-to-man defense couldn’t slow No. 15 Miami (16-3, 5-2).
For most of the game, Duke’s offense was stagnant, as evidenced by just eight assists on 25 made baskets. The Blue Devils had 11 turnovers, too. Not having a true point guard to run the offense hurts.
Miami managed 24 assists on 30 baskets and just seven turnovers. Both guards and bigs alike found holes in Duke’s zone and kicked out to open shooters.
Still, the Blue Devils were in a decent position at halftime, down just 35-31. But as the game went on, the physical Hurricanes were able to wear Duke down.
Krzyzewski commented multiple times on Miami’s physicality. When it was suggested to Miami coach Jim Larrañaga that Miami wasn’t previously perceived as a physical team, he balked.
“Angel,” he asked his point guard, Angel Rodriguez, who was sitting in the room. “Are we physical?”
“I think we are,” he said, incredulous at the question.
“The term we use is level off the dribbler,” Larrañaga said. “In other words, we’re not going to let them turn the corner and go directly toward the rim. And our guys are quick enough laterally, and we work on it every single day to teach our guys how to guard a dribbler.
“What Duke does incredibly well, maybe better than any team I’ve seen this year, for sure, is straight-line drive,” Larrañaga continued. “And that’s the hardest thing to guard, where a guy just is going hard. But we’re entitled to our position.”
The Hurricanes were strong enough to stand their ground when a Duke driver bumped into them, which threw the driver off, not the defense. The Blue Devils guards attempted just 11 free throws between the five of them, an indication of their inability to fight through the Miami players to the rim.
“Brandon (Ingram) has to keep going,” Krzyzewski said, unprompted. “As he’s growing, he should have a game where he gets 12, 15 free throws with all the stuff that he’s doing. He’s got to learn the game better, I guess. He’s playing so . . . hard and not necessarily getting rewarded for some of his strong efforts.”
Ingram did lead Duke with a relatively quiet 19 points, and Grayson Allen added 17.
The effort and the will were there, Krzyzewski said of his team. It’s just the results that are missing. Duke does get a full week before its next game to recuperate and try to figure out how to squeeze more wins out of six rotation players.
“We lost, but our kids weren’t out-competed,” Krzyzewski said. “I always tell my guys, you play your butts off, compete, and I’m good. So I’m good. I’m good.”