The last time Duke beat N.C. State, the Blue Devils had to go right back to work against an upper-echelon ACC opponent on one day of rest. They lost at Miami.
Forty-eight hours off another hard-fought win over the Wolfpack on Saturday, the Blue Devils were tested again, this time against Louisville.
With Amile Jefferson out – and perhaps even if he were healthy – these quick turnarounds have proved unsurprisingly difficult for Duke's 6 1/2-man rotation. Three of Duke's four ACC losses have come with two or fewer days between games, but the Blue Devils are now 2-3 in that scenario, and Monday looked like a turning point in that regard. Duke is learning how to play tired.
The Blue Devils will always face the issues inherent when a short bench and the ACC's oddly spasmodic schedule collide, so the 72-65 win over Louisville was notable not only for the victory but for surmounting a scenario that has so often derailed Duke this season. After falling behind with six minutes to go, the Blue Devils regrouped, rallied and recovered.
“A couple weeks ago, there's no way,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I think we lose that game by 15 points. We wouldn't have been able to get there. They keep growing up and they keep playing hard. They earned it.”
Duke will go through three more of those situations in the regular season – two days ahead of the game at Louisville on Feb. 20, two days ahead of Pittsburgh on Feb. 28, one day ahead of Wake Forest on March 1. Then there's the ACC tournament in Washington, where there's no rest at all for the victorious.
The Blue Devils aren't looking that far ahead. They can only see as far as Saturday, when Duke plays Virginia. Marshall Plumlee, Matt Jones and Grayson Allen are all nursing injuries. Jefferson's return does not appear imminent in the slightest.
There will be no practice Tuesday, only recovery, but with it a sense that this kind of turnaround won't be as tough the next time.
“We were on a losing streak, came back and got a big win. It would have been easy to think about N.C. State and the win that we just got, especially with the short turnaround,” Allen said. “I think it showed the maturity of our team to prepare.”
Duke showed no signs of fatigue in the first half Monday, running out to a 35-24 lead without much trouble at all. The second half started the same way, with Duke up 14 after a Matt Jones 3-pointer.
Then Louisville started making shots and Duke's legs clearly felt heavy. The Blue Devils went more than five minutes without a bucket, a drought compounded by a tripping call on Allen that took the ball away from Duke and gave it to Louisville – not the heaviest moment of contact under the basket in a brutally physical game.
A 13-0 Louisville run pushed Duke to the precipice. The Blue Devils had been in this situation before. They had not fared well.
“In the second half, when they got momentum, I thought they were playing really well and we were playing tired,” Krzyzewski said. “Somehow, our group just showed incredible toughness while they were tired and we won. No X’s and O’s.”
There were some X’s and O’s involved. By running the offense through Brandon Ingram – who played all 40 minutes – the Blue Devils were able to manufacture enough points to hold off Louisville, no small victory for a team that continues to suffer from a lack of depth but may finally have learned to play through it.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock