It’s an old trick in Mike Krzyzewski’s motivational book: the quick second-half timeout.
It took just 37 seconds and one easy Connecticut layup for Krzyzewski to jump up from his seat onto the court and call timeout. Duke’s coach continued to be animated, asking his players what they were doing, only with a more colorful word thrown in there.
“We were out to lunch. We were in la la land, I thought,” Krzyzewski said. “And it still took us about another minute to get back into it. With any team, especially a young team, you can get a little bit annoyed at how hard people play against you. And you’ve got to get playing that hard.
“And I was annoyed with them. But they responded, and that’s the sign of a really good team.”
The No. 2 Blue Devils (10-0) toughed out a 66-56 win against the Huskies, and it wasn’t particularly easy or pretty.
UConn (4-4) did finish off a 6-0 run to open the second half after that Krzyzewski timeout, tying the game at 30. After that, though, Duke went on a 15-2 run that changed the complexion of the game.
While it was the first time Krzyzewski had gone to the quick timeout like that, it’s not the first time this season the Blue Devils have received a tongue lashing in game.
The last syllable of the question – Is that the first time he has gotten into you guys during an in-game timeout like that – hadn’t even finished before freshman Justise Winslow said, “No.”
“Coach is very intense just because he wants to win,” said Winslow, who scored 10 of his 12 points after halftime. “He’s getting into us, it’s nothing personal. When he does that, we’ve just got to feed off of it and go out there and play.”
Throughout the timeout, Quinn Cook nodded vigorously – the senior had seen this before. This group can talk to each other like men and hold themselves accountable, he said.
It was a Winslow offensive rebound that kicked off the 15-2 run, one he put back for a lay-in. Tyus Jones and then Winslow again made consecutive layups to force a Kevin Ollie timeout for UConn.
That didn’t stop the Blue Devils’ momentum, though, as Okafor, Cook and then Okafor again continued the parade to the basket.
The second Okafor basket was a one-handed dunk that left the scouts with visions of him in the NBA next fall dancing through their heads – a drop step to the baseline around the Huskies’ Phillip Nolan cleared all the space he needed to get to the rim.
Still, the Huskies didn’t just fade away. UConn was down 57-51 with 3 minutes, 45 seconds left in the game. Out of that media timeout, though, Jones found Winslow late in the shot clock for an open 3 that gave the Blue Devils enough cushion the rest of the way.
Ryan Boatright, quick 6-foot guard who gave the Blue Devils problems all night, finished with 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting and made a long 3 to cut the deficit to six with 1:30 remaining.
He was easily the best guard the Blue Devils have faced this season and the only reliable scoring option for the Huskies.
N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis, UConn’s other starting guard, forced many shots and finished 4-of-11 from the field for eight points.
Jones, who was matched up on both ends with Boatright often, finished with 21 points – 5-of-11 from the field and 9-of-10 from the free throw line. Okafor finished with 12 points and displayed his best court vision of the year, finding teammates with passes out of double-teams.
Even though it wasn’t Duke’s best offensive night, Krzyzewski was much more pleased with the effort level than he was Monday night when Duke played Elon.
The Huskies pushed Duke, and the young Blue Devils pushed back.
All it took was a verbal spark.