Against a team that was sub-.500 in the ACC, Duke couldn’t pull it off.
Freshman forward Jayson Tatum converted a three-point play in the final six seconds against N.C. State Monday, pulling the Blue Devils close. A Wolfpack free throw and a Duke turnover in the waning seconds sealed the win for N.C. State, its first at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1995.
A thick melancholy draped over the Duke locker room after the 84-82 loss. Uncharacteristically slouched down in his seat, fifth-year forward Amile Jefferson was frank about Duke’s state in the ACC.
“We’re desperate,” he said. “We have to play that way. It means that we have to learn how to fight together for 40 minutes. It’s a lot of season left.”
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But it seems Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, who’s on leave while recovering from back surgery, is also desperate to turn around his team.
ESPN reported Thursday that the Hall of Fame coach called a meeting Tuesday at his house to discipline his players. He banned them from the locker room and from wearing Duke team gear after being fed up following the loss to the Wolfpack.
It wasn’t the first time Krzyzewski has used these methods, according to the report.
A Duke spokesperson would not comment on the meeting, which was reportedly followed by a players-only session.
On WRAL SportsFan radio Thursday, acting head coach Jeff Capel also didn’t comment directly on it.
“It’s pretty disappointing when stuff that happens within a locker room, it gets out like that,” he said. “I don’t know who the source is or where the source are coming from. It’s pretty disappointing that stuff gets out like that.”
The No. 17 Blue Devils (15-5, 3-4 ACC) have 11 regular-season games remaining, and five of the upcoming contests are against opponents who are currently ranked. That includes two games against rival North Carolina (18-3, 6-1), which is No. 9 and on top of the ACC after Georgia Tech upset No. 6 Florida State Wednesday; Georgia Tech is UNC’s lone conference loss.
Duke was the preseason’s top-ranked team and ACC favorite – but its season has been more punctuated with unforeseen distractions than the composition of a team headed to Phoenix, Ariz., for the national title game this year.
Throughout the season, the Blue Devils have been blindsided with injuries to key players and lots of Grayson Allen controversy. They’re playing without Krzyzewski, who is, after surgery on Jan. 6, expected to miss up to four weeks. That could put him back on the sideline in time for Pittsburgh’s game at Duke on Feb. 4 if the recovery process goes as planned.
Without Krzyzewski, Duke’s acting head coach Jeff Capel is 2-3, dropping back-to-back ACC losses on the road for the first time since 1995.
The Blue Devils appeared to be on the right track when they came back in the second half to quiet Miami in a 70-58 win on Jan. 21, but the two-point loss to N.C. State this past Monday begged a different question. A must-win game over the Hurricanes probably should have driven Duke’s momentum, but it was instead followed by another hiccup.
Against the Wolfpack (14-7, 3-5), Capel used the starting lineup he deployed to start the second half against Miami. It started off well Monday, but N.C. State star freshman Dennis Smith Jr. was hard to manage and took advantage of even the smallest lapse on defense in one of the best games of his career.
With No. 9 North Carolina on the horizon on Feb. 9 at home, the road doesn’t get easier for Duke. The Blue Devils on Saturday head to Wake Forest (12-8, 3-5), a team that beat N.C. State on Jan. 21, crushing a 25-game ACC road game losing streak and beating the Pack in Raleigh for the first time in nearly a decade.
On Monday, two days after its visit to Winston-Salem, Duke will face No. 14 Notre Dame (17-4, 6-2) in South Bend. Duke, which hasn’t won a road game this year, has lost five of the last six to a Fighting Irish team fueled by Bonzie Colson.
Duke’s start in the first seven league games hasn’t been this bad since the team began 2-5 in 1996.
The Blue Devils last won an ACC championship in 2011, and a tough stretch doesn’t exactly count out the conference faves.
It gets three teams that up to now haven’t beaten a ranked opponent in Syracuse, Miami and Wake Forest, which it plays twice.
Florida State (18-3, 6-2) leads the ACC with a 6-1 record against ranked teams, but the Seminoles don’t do well on the road and visit Cameron for Duke’s home finale on Feb. 28.
“We don’t play any bad teams for the rest of the year,” Jefferson said. “Every team is a program team. If you don’t fight for 40 minutes, you give them a chance to beat you.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
Duke’s remaining regular-season schedule
Saturday at Wake Forest (12-8, 3-5)
Monday at No. 14 Notre Dame (17-4 6-2)
Feb. 4 Pittsburgh (12-8, 1-6)
Feb. 9 No. 9 UNC (18-3, 6-1)
Feb. 11 Clemson (11-8, 1-6)
Feb. 15 at No. 12 Virginia (16-3, 6-2)
Feb. 18 Wake Forest (12-8, 3-5)
Feb. 22 at Syracuse (12-9, 4-4)
Feb. 25 at Miami (13-6, 3-4)
Feb. 28 No. 6 Florida State (18-3, 6-2)
March 4 No. 9 UNC (18-3, 6-1)