Duke followed up its best performance of the season with perhaps its worst, leaving the players and their hall of fame coach at a loss to explain the juxtaposition.
As fantastic, energetic and together as the Blue Devils looked in pounding Clemson, 79-53, on Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, they looked unremarkable, apathetic and disjointed in losing 77-75 at Miami Monday night.
The seeds of a stunning defeat to the team lower in the NET ratings than any ACC team began to grow on Sunday when the Blue Devils acted a little too happy, a little too comfortable in practice as they prepared to face the Hurricanes.
Miami (7-10, 3-9 ACC), after all, had lost its previous four games by an average margin of 18.5 points.
The Blue Devils (7-6, 5-4 ACC) had won back-to-back ACC games over Georgia Tech and Clemson at home. Coach Mike Krzyzewski used the same lineup at Miami as he did against Clemson and, for the fourth game in a row, sophomores Wendell Moore and Matthew Hurt were joined as starters by freshmen Jalen Johnson and DJ Steward.
But instead of looking like a team on the rise, that had found some stability, the Blue Devils put forth a subpar effort.
“We brought that up,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Don’t be happy. Be hungry. I told them `We do the job, be happy on Tuesday.’”
Instead, Duke endured a somber trip home from south Florida, having lost its fourth consecutive league road game.
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI SAYS HIS TEAM IS ‘SOFT’
The Blue Devils have no one to blame but themselves, of course.
Their porous defense allowed the Hurricanes too many offensive rebounds, too many open shots and too many easy drives into the lane. Miami shot 52.5% and scored 40 of their points in the paint. The Hurricanes average just 65.5 points per game but surpassed that to beat Duke.
On offense, the Blue Devils had just eight assists on their 29 field goals, a sign of how ineffectively they ran their offense. For comparison, Duke had 20 assists on their 28 field goals in hammering Clemson.
The Blue Devils committed 13 turnovers, many of them when they fumbled or threw the ball away. It led Krzyzewski to call his team “soft.”
“When it came to the offense, we regressed a little bit,” Moore said, “back to the team we were before we started playing so well. It started in practice.”
Krzyzewski called timeouts at the midpoints of both halves trying to snap his team out of its funk and will it to a win. The Blue Devils finished the first half on a flurry to lead 35-31 after Miami had led by as many as six points.
Duke led 51-49 with 10:25 to play in the game. But Miami scored the game’s next eight points — all on dunks or layins — to take the lead for good.
“We didn’t play hard tonight,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s sad. It really is sad. Coming off those two games. You play three games in six days and we’re not tired, don’t get me wrong in that. But you have to be mature enough to handle three games in that time and be prepared for each one.”
HOW THE BLUE DEVILS STRUGGLED AGAINST THE HURRICANES
Against Miami, no one showed the kind of on-court leadership the Blue Devils needed. Duke’s key players mostly had “yeah, but” performances.
Freshman Jalen Johnson scored 13 points with seven assists but turned the ball over a team-high four times. He needed 12 shots to net his 13 points.
Sophomore Matthew Hurt led Duke with 21 points but hit only 1 of 6 3-pointers.
Senior guard Jordan Goldwire, expected to be the rock of an otherwise young team, looked rattled while hitting 2 of 10 shots to score five points while committing three turnovers with one assist.
“For us to win, we have to play really hard and well together,” Krzyzewski said. “We have talent. We have to play really hard to win. If we don’t play hard, we’re going to lose.”
The key, he said, wasn’t for one of his players to suddenly realize during the game the team needed a jolt. It was for that player, or several players, to do something about it when Sunday’s mood in practice wasn’t right.
“It would help if anyone steps up,” Krzyzewski said, “but you need to hit it at the moment you see it. We saw it yesterday. You take care of it yesterday. You don’t take care of it during a ball game.”
Instead, Duke heads into Saturday’s game with rival North Carolina needing to win to avoid falling back to the .500 mark for the season. More importantly, the Blue Devils need to learn how to compete at the same high level every night and fear the consequences if they don’t.
“We have to enjoy how we played against Clemson and how we played against Georgia Tech,” Moore said. “We can’t be complacent just because we get two wins in the ACC. We have to come every night to play because, as you all know, the ACC is really as tough as it gets. When you don’t come to play, anything can happen.”
NORTH CAROLINA AT DUKE
When: 6 p.m., Saturday
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham