Right after Duke had been thoroughly dominated in its loss at Pittsburgh, coach Mike Krzyzewski was thinking ahead to the next task at hand. Roughly 52 hours after walking off the floor at Pitt, the Blue Devils would have to be ready to host Wake Forest.
“We just have to be mature enough to get ready for that game,” junior guard Matt Jones said.
The No. 17 Blue Devils (21-8, 10-6 ACC) couldn’t summon up the necessary physical or emotional energy to hang with the Panthers in the 76-62 loss Sunday afternoon (and the blowout nature of the game indicates how well Pitt played, too). While he certainly would have preferred a different reality, Krzyzewski didn’t fault his team for the off day.
“In any sport, if you go through what we went through – we were 4-4 (in the ACC), down to Georgia Tech, and I’m not with the team,” Krzyzewski said. “Then you come back and play State, and then you have Louisville, Virginia, Carolina away, Louisville at Louisville, that would wear out any team, let alone a young team and numbers-wise, we’re short. And we were able to have a really good effort, but in the second half against Florida State (on Thursday), I could see that as much as they were trying, the tank was getting emotionally empty. We could never conjure up that emotion against Pitt yesterday, no matter what.
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“Look, that has happened to my teams before. It just happens. And you’ve got to try to make sure you don’t get bad habits when it happens and that it’s not the way that you’re going to continue to play.”
That last part is the challenge for Tuesday night’s contest against the Deacons (11-18, 2-15). Wake Forest has lost 52 of its last 54 ACC road games, a streak that dates back to the end of the Dino Gaudio era (and that was two Wake Forest coaches ago). So playing the Deacons doesn’t exactly get the adrenaline pumping the same way playing North Carolina does.
But still , even if another lackluster performance won’t necessarily bring another loss, the Blue Devils don’t need to develop bad habits this late in the season.
“It’s not a matter of who you’re playing,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s a matter of just playing. But in saying that, it’s our responsibility to get over it. Just in military terms, battle fatigue – you’ve been on the front lines a little too much, but you still have to be there. There aren’t reinforcements, so what do you do? We’re not alone in fighting these battles, but that’s what our team is fighting right now.”
From a tactical standpoint, Duke can’t be beaten on the boards like they were at Pitt. It only seemed like the Panthers made every second-half shot. In reality, Pitt shot “just” 50 percent because it collected offensive rebounds on more than half of its misses (seven offensive rebounds to 13 missed shots).
“We have to gang rebound, and we didn’t do it tonight,” freshman forward guard Brandon Ingram said after the loss.
Also, the Blue Devils need better offensive balance – of Duke’s 48 shots against Pitt, 32 were 3s (66.7 percent). One of Duke’s offensive strengths is to have Ingram and sophomore guard Grayson Allen drive to the basket, get opponents in foul trouble and get to the free-throw line. Settling for one outside jumper after another doesn’t accomplish that.
The Blue Devils have come along way from the 4-4, down at Georgia Tech moment on Feb. 2 that Krzyzewski referenced. But the season isn’t done yet.
“To go through that stretch and fight and grow and win, put yourself in a position to be in the (NCAA) tournament again, those are great accomplishments for this group,” he said. “But it can’t be over now. We have to try to continue to move on.”