After Duke lost at Miami Monday night, Mike Krzyzewski made one thing clear: He was proud of his team’s effort.
It just wasn’t enough to win the game.
“We put ourselves in a position and gave ourselves a chance to win, but we just didn’t,” said Krzyzewski, the Duke coach. “I’m proud of our guys for being able to do that.”
It’s not often at Duke when players are giving their best effort but still losing games. This is something that has happened five times to the Blue Devils since Amile Jefferson broke his foot in mid-December. Against Utah, at Clemson, versus Notre Dame and Syracuse and at Miami. Krzyzewski had no gripes with effort in any of those games, but all five ended in victories for the other team.
After the 80-69 loss at Miami, Duke’s fourth in its past five games, the No. 24 Blue Devils (15-6, 4-4 ACC) are in ninth place in the 15-team league. And six of their 10 remaining games are against teams currently ahead of them in the standings.
The Blue Devils are going to struggle without Jefferson as a second viable forward. Plain and simple. He has made progress and shed his walking boot, but there is still no timetable for his return. And if Jefferson does retake the floor, Duke will need him to play well, especially in ball-screen defense and on the boards, for the team to improve.
We’re going to keep fighting. We’re a proud program, we’re a proud team, and there is no quit in the locker room.
Duke’s Marshall Plumlee
Until then, all Krzyzewski can do is keep encouraging his guys to fight and try their best.
“We’re always truthful with them,” Krzyzewski said. “They know that we’ve been undermanned for about six weeks. And they’re growing up as a result. We’ve gotten better. We’ve competed in every darn game since Amile has been gone and had a chance in every game. That’s all I’m looking for.
“And hopefully the wins will be there. The winning effort has been there the entire time, and preparations and the attitudes to win.”
It’s unfamiliar territory for the Blue Devils to not see their work turn into results. Everyone in the program is accustomed to success. Most of the players were McDonald’s all-Americans in high school. Everyone but the freshmen won a national championship last year.
“This isn’t a final destination, and as we sit right off of a loss, we’re not going to quit,” center Marshall Plumlee said. “We’re going to keep fighting. We’re a proud program, we’re a proud team, and there is no quit in the locker room. There’s no real solace in the fact that we fought but we lost. But that being said, going through experiences like this can only make you tougher.”
The fact that Krzyzewski has won more games than any other men’s Division I coach undoubtedly makes it easier for the Blue Devils to keep faith in the idea that the hard work will eventually pay off. Even in the immediate disappointment after losing to the Hurricanes, no one was considering the idea that it might not get better this year.
“Just keep fighting,” Matt Jones said on what comes next. “Keep pushing, and we’re not going to give up. Other than that, just getting better each and every day and just keep giving a championship effort. If we do that, good things will happen for us.”