It’s too easy to erroneously identify turning points in the middle of the ACC basketball season – today’s step forward at home is tomorrow’s stumble on the road – so just because Duke went from looking lost at the end of the first half to looking unbeatable at the start of the second half in Saturday night’s win over Miami doesn’t mean the Blue Devils finally have things figured out.
It could, though. That was no ordinary win.
After all the turmoil, all the injuries, all the frustration Duke has endured – and that was just the first half! – the Blue Devils put together a second-half performance that blew a good Miami team out of the water. A 20-0 run can cure a lot of ills.
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There have been more than a few false dawns for this Duke team, most notably the final game Mike Krzyzewski coached before undergoing back surgery, a nearly uncontested blowout win over Georgia Tech, so this may or may not be another.
It’s hard to tell much from Duke’s resume at this point. Duke has won its three ACC home games (Boston College was the other) and lost its three ACC road games, at Virginia Tech, Florida State and Louisville. Miami is the first upper-echelon ACC team Duke has beaten, and Duke’s second-best victory of the season (Florida tops the list).
But with Amile Jefferson back, the Blue Devils are healthy. Whatever Jeff Capel said at halftime seemed to get their heads in the right places. And even if Duke still lacks a point guard, the offense seemed to click in a way it hasn’t always this season, with Matt Jones the somewhat unlikely hero.
Defense has always been a bigger issue for Duke this season, and the Blue Devils got some help from a Miami team that, as coach Jim Larranaga said, might have thought it won the game at halftime. There is still some more work required there.
All of this could be bad news Monday for N.C. State, which has a whole basket of issues of its own that it has yet to solve, many of them similar to Duke’s (and not just playing defense).
The Wolfpack is still integrating Omer Yurtseven into its lineup as he adjusts to North American basketball, just as Duke seemed to waver when talented freshmen Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles were healthy and ready to contribute. And Saturday’s home loss to Wake Forest highlighted a lack of concentration and consistent effort that continues to plague the Wolfpack.
It’s a strange team, hard to fathom at times: Abdul-Malik Abu was gunning from all over in the first half, but a non-factor in the second; Terry Henderson didn’t do much until N.C. State’s late surge; Markell Johnson seems to be the Wolfpack’s most engaged player; and so on.
There’s no time to get well. N.C. State is entering a difficult portion of its schedule that includes games against Duke, Louisville, Miami and Florida State (with an eminently winnable home game against Syracuse in the middle). Then again, in the ACC this season, they’re all difficult, especially if you can’t bank home wins against Georgia Tech or Wake Forest, but N.C. State hasn’t won at Cameron since the last time Krzyzewski was on sabbatical.
That probably makes this a bigger game for Duke than N.C. State. The Wolfpack has absolutely nothing to lose. The Blue Devils should have something to prove. They could hardly have played much worse in the first half against Miami. They could hardly have played much better in the second. The quick turnaround gives them a chance to show that what happened at halftime wasn’t just about one game, but about the rest of the season going forward.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock