After Brandon Ingram’s uncharacteristic off day at Louisville, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski pulled him aside.
There was no need to deny the obvious – Ingram had more turnovers (10) than points (eight) in the 71-64 loss.
“What I talked to him about was, could you ever imagine that when you put your foot on the gas pedal that the car wouldn’t go?” Krzyzewski said. “And he just smiled. He understood. I said look, that happens.
“To me, I thought human nature just caught up with him.”
As it stands now, Ingram will be one of the top two picks in next spring’s NBA Draft. His talent and skill are undeniable. Even Louisville coach Rick Pitino compared the freshman forward guard to Kevin Durant after his off game.
Look for Ingram to be back to his regular self as No. 15 Duke (20-7, 9-5 ACC) hosts a reeling Florida State (16-11, 6-9) Thursday at 7 p.m.
Last week was a particularly taxing stretch for the Blue Devils, and Pitino, a Hall-of-Fame coach, made sure the Cardinals came at Ingram especially hard.
“You’ve been through an amazing period in the schedule that we’ve been under, and then with the injury to Matt (Jones) and all that—just the schedule of coming back after Carolina, you’re up to 3 o’clock, or maybe you don’t even sleep, and then you’re at Louisville at noon on Saturday,” Krzyzewski said.
Krzyzewski has demonstrated his faith in Ingram by putting the ball in his hands during critical situations. Down the stretch in Duke’s 72-65 home win over Louisville on Feb. 8, Krzyzewski had Ingram bring the ball down the court, and he would either drive, shoot or pass off of a ball screen.
“It wasn’t really a play,” Krzyzewski said after the win, “It was just kind of spread it, isolate, and let him be instinctively there and he really did a good job.”
And then in the 63-62 win against Virginia on Feb. 13, Ingram scored 18 straight points for Duke to end the first half and begin the second. That forced Cavaliers head coach Tony Bennett to change his defense and go with a four-guard lineup, which took away Virginia’s advantage on the boards.
“Two things are impossible to teach and coach against, unless you have it, are length and quickness,” Krzyzewski said recently.
Ingram has both in spades.
At 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, the wiry – but not weak – Ingram can get his shot off over any defender on the perimeter. He’s quick to the basket, too, especially against the power forward types that have had to guard him this year.
That’s why it was so strange to see him struggle to avoid traveling or dribbling into traps on Saturday.
“It wasn’t his best game against Louisville, but he had a great practice (Tuesday),” freshman guard Luke Kennard said. “That’s in the past, he’s moving on, and that’s what we need him to do.”
Duke will have more available bodies as they face the Seminoles, with Matt Jones and Derryck Thornton recovered from their ankle and shoulder injuries, respectively. And forward Amile Jefferson, out for two months with a broken foot, continues to work back to full speed in practices. But no amount of additional depth can replace the skills a fully effective Ingram brings.
“He can play ball—passing, shooting, rebounding,” Krzyzewski said of Ingram. “There is not a phase of the game that he can’t do well.
“He has been really good throughout, and there has been a constant improvement based on what he is experiencing.”