It’s the biggest thing coaches preach and ask for from their players.
When Duke suffered its worst loss in the past 15 seasons to St. John’s on Sunday, Mike Krzyzewski didn’t bemoan the 17 turnovers or the five-of-26 shooting from behind the arc or the fact that Mason Plumlee managed just two points and four rebounds.
“It’s not an Xs and Os thing today,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said following the 93-78 loss. “I felt we were not ready to compete, we had blank expressions on our faces and guys weren’t talking and that’s my responsibility.”
Facing rival Maryland in College Park in front of fans that downright hate Duke, the Blue Devils responded with an effort level that overtly pleased Coach K. To a point that he proclaimed the 80-62 win as the best victory of the season since Kyrie Irving got hurt.
“It’s our best win,” Krzyzewski said. “The atmosphere and the opponent, but we also had some adversity in there. Our bench did a good job. The Plumlees got some big offensive rebounds in the first half and kicked them out for threes. I thought it was Mason’s [Plumlee] best game. When we had a five-point lead, that dunk along the baseline was huge. And Andre [Dawkins] hit two of the biggest shots of the game to give us a double figure lead when Maryland made their push.”
Stats sometimes lie, but in this case, the proof was in the pudding as the Blue Devils took care of the ball in committing only eight turnovers. They made their treys on 10-of-23 shooting. And Mason Plumlee had his first double-double since Dec. 1st against Michigan State with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Too often outsiders of a program jump to conclusions when things go differently as portrayed. It happened last season when Duke lost to Georgetown and it happened again when the Blue Devils experienced what many of the players described as an embarrassing defeat.
Who knows why the Blue Devils played so poorly on Sunday. Maybe it was the travel into New York. Maybe it was playing in Madison Square Garden with a crowd in favor of someone else except them. Maybe they’re still trying to get used to playing without Kyrie. Whatever the reason, I figured the game might turn into a trap game considering Maryland was next on the board.
The Blue Devils’ performance against the Terps made the St. John’s loss seem like a distant memory. And it showed how this ever-transitioning team is beginning to grow up.
“To come on the road three days later and win like this is really a huge thing for our kids,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m proud of our guys because most teams wouldn’t be able to do that. We grew up today and got a lot tougher.”
Another big development was Tyler Thornton’s first career start. Having him at point guard allowed Nolan Smith to do what he did last season and what he had been doing with Kyrie at the helm.
“He has been so tough,” Coach K said. “In our first Maryland game, he was the difference-maker in that game. We wanted to start the game where Nolan [Smith] could go everywhere and he obviously still has the ball, but we wanted to wear them out. They start those two freshmen who are very good for them, but you have to spend a lot of energy pressuring them or just trying to keep them in front of you. It took a lot of pressure off of Nolan tonight.”
Smith responded with the kind of game we’ve come to take for granted, 21 points, six rebounds, three assists.
Finally, just like in previous championship seasons when Duke has had a balanced team with a couple of go-to players, Smith and Kyle Singler stepped up when the team needed them most.
After Maryland had closed the deficit to 40-33 with a seven-point run before the half, Singler (22 points) and Smith combined to score Duke’s first 16 points of the second half to make it 56-43 with 12 minutes left. Their play opened things up for their teammates and when the Terrapins closed the gap to five, Duke answered with a 10-3 surge that included a pair of 3-pointers by Andre Dawkins (11 points).
While Coach K doesn’t want this bounce-back game to give off any “visions of grandeur,” the appearance of a championship-type team is beginning to take shape.
Note: Singler now has 2,166 career points and moved into fifth on Duke’s all-time scoring list, passing Danny Ferry.
About the Author
Written by Chris Girandola
I currently write for the St. Petersburg Times, MLB.com, the Naples News, Demand Studios, LiveStrong, Fuel Football, Fuel Basketball and Fuel Football.