There are only so many ways to say that Duke desperately needs more than one post player to be effective in the ACC. It was clear in the loss at Clemson. It was clear in the loss against Notre Dame, and it was still clear when Duke lost 64-62 to Syracuse.
Forward Amile Jefferson is on the bench with his broken foot, return date unknown. Marshall Plumlee is playing the best basketball of his life by a factor of approximately 1 million, but he can’t do it alone. After the Fighting Irish were able to grab all of the timely rebounds, the Orange grabbed nearly every offensive rebound in the second half.
In the first eight minutes of the second half, the Orange missed 15 shots – and grabbed 12 offensive rebounds. With each passing one, Krzyzewski grew more and more frustrated. He was as demonstratively angry as he has been all year. With Syracuse up 43-41 at the media timeout with 10:27 left in the game, Krzyzewski’s fire and brimstone speech in the huddle brought the people behind Duke’s bench to their feet.
But when Malachi Richardson missed a jump shot and yet another offensive rebound turned into a Trevor Cooney 3-pointer Krzyzewski stayed on the bench this time with his arms crossed. Syracuse led 53-48, and there was nothing more he could say.
And after the game, Krzyzewski didn’t have much to say.
“I’ll take your questions,” he said, skipping the opening statement he makes after every game.
By that point in the night, Krzyzewski was furious with a no-call in a rebounding scrum with 7 seconds left in the game. Grayson Allen drove to the basket with a chance to take the lead, but the tough shot wouldn’t drop. Matt Jones and Malachi Richardson went after the ball – Krzyzewski adamantly believes that Jones had it and Richardson fouled him to get it loose. But the officials clearly disagreed, and there was no call. Syracuse was up 63-62 and would make one more free throw.
“Amazing,” Krzyzewski kept saying about the no call. In fact, he said it 10 times in his 6:17 at the dais.
In a one-possession game, plenty of moments and factors can be isolated and analyzed. Take the fact that the Blue Devils did exactly what Syracuse’s 2-3 zone wants opponents to do – jack up a bunch of 3s. Duke went 10-for-37 (27 percent) from beyond the arc. That won’t win many games. Players said after the game that they wanted to drive more, but that’s exactly what the 2-3 zone takes away.
And then there was Syracuse’s offensive rebounding and Duke’s corresponding lack of defensive rebounding. Tyler Roberson entered the game averaging 8.5 rebounds for the Orange (13-7, 3-4 ACC). Monday night, he had 20 – 20! – with 12 coming on the offensive glass.
“Anytime they beat us to a board, it’s gotta hurt,” Plumlee said. “It’s gotta be a collective hurt so that you don’t let it happen. It can’t be tolerated. That’s something we need to work on, and that’s something Coach preaches that we need to listen more to.”
Plumlee finished with 19 points and 17 rebounds, yeoman’s work in 38 minutes (after playing 39 against Notre Dame three days prior). But he can’t do it alone.
“When you look at Duke and without Jefferson, they need that one guy,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “It would be the same as if we lost Roberson, it would be impossible to get where you want to go.”
And that’s where Duke is, in an impossible position. The No. 20 Blue Devils (14-5, 3-3) are limited without Jefferson and have no depth behind Plumlee. Duke is on its first three-game losing streak since the end 2006-07 season. And its streak of 166 consecutive weeks in the AP poll, also dating back to then, will end with this week. And it won’t get any easier for Duke.
Krzyzewski didn’t have much to say to his players after the game, Derryck Thornton said.
“Another tough loss, but as men we have to bounce back,” Thornton said, summing up the message.
“We’re playing our hearts out,” Krzyzewski said. “That hasn’t been rewarded.”