Caleb Martin’s stand-in (stand-up?) protest against a Cameron Crazies tradition couldn’t defray the inevitable imposition of normalcy for both Duke and N.C. State on Saturday. The Blue Devils welcomed Mike Krzyzewski back to their bench after a one-game absence, and the Wolfpack suffered yet another single-digit ACC loss, 88-80 this time, an old story for the Wolfpack.
The Duke tradition is to howl at an opposing player who picks up his fifth foul until he takes a seat on the bench, at which point they all yell “See ya!” and get back to doing the other carefully choreographed in-game antics for which they are famous. Many an opposing player has baited them by standing for a while. Few, if any, have taken it as far as Martin did Saturday.
He fouled out with 4:41 to go and stood for almost 15 minutes, through the entirety of the under-4 media timeout and right to the finish of the game. The “oooohing” paused only for Duke free throws, of which there turned out to be plenty down the stretch.
Martin could do nothing about the Wolfpack’s 17th straight loss at Duke. His stand against Craziedom coincided with the game slipping away from N.C. State, which had cut Duke’s lead to three before the Blue Devils pulled away late for a win that has some implications for the rest of Duke’s season.
Freshman point guard Derryck Thornton continued to show progress for the Blue Devils, doing an outstanding job defensively on Cat Barber in the first half before getting yanked from the game after a pair of sloppy turnovers early in the second half, one against token backcourt pressure that led to a Cody Martin dunk, the other after crossing midcourt on the next possession that led to a Cody Martin layup.
It was a step back after two steps forward for Thornton, whose ongoing development is imperative for Duke to reach its full potential. At the same time, when Duke shoots like it did from 3-point range – 14-for-28, including six from Luke Kennard – the Blue Devils can beat almost anyone. That can be fool’s gold, because they can’t always expect to shoot that well, and finding other sources of offense is imperative. Grayson Allen is as reliable as they get, but Brandon Ingram faltered at times Saturday.
No one in the ACC is more reliable than Barber, who was held to under 30 points for a change but scored 17 of his 26 in the second half as Duke found neither Matt Jones nor a 1-3-1 zone as effective against him as Thornton had been. It wasn’t enough, and a bad day for N.C. State took an ominous turn at the end when Barber fell to the floor and stayed down clutching his right wrist.
Barber never left the game despite a number of lengthy glances toward the bench, and said afterward he was OK – N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said X-rays were still forthcoming – but even for a moment the prospect of Barber missing any time at all for N.C. State was a frightening one.
Krzyzewski had a moment like that of his own when Allen stepped awkwardly on a foot and went down grabbing his right ankle, leaving the game briefly before returning to show no lasting effects. Only a few days removed from the overnight hospital stay that kept him away from Tuesday’s win at Georgia Tech, Krzyzewski joked that if Allen had been seriously injured, his own health troubles might have taken a turn for the worse.
“When Grayson got fouled there, not intentionally or anything,” Krzyzewski said, “I thought, ‘All right, my knee should go out right now because it ain’t going to be good for the rest of the year if he’s gone.’ You know?”
If Krzyzewski can make an offhanded joke about 1995, when he sat out most of a dismal season due to back problems, surely things are getting back to normal after a week of turmoil for Duke. And despite Martin winning his battle with the fans, a seventh narrow ACC loss and another at Cameron was all too normal for the Wolfpack.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock