Duke basketball prepares to take on the ACC's leading scorerAfter grinding out a hard-fought, "must-win" victory against Virginia, Duke players and coaches did not attempt to hide their jubilation while leaving the court Monday night. A 1-3 start in the ACC had to be avoided at all cost, and it was—barely.
"We needed to win, we needed to protect our home court, and we needed to play with a sense of urgency. That's how we prepared and that's how we played," Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel said. "Everybody stepped up and different guys contributed. We were excited by the fact that we won but most importantly as a coaching staff we were excited because we felt like everyone was in the fight together."
Seeking to climb above .500 in conference play for the first time this season, Duke will again rely on that high intensity level when the Blue Devils tip off against N.C. State Saturday at 2 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Although sophomores Amile Jefferson and Rasheed Sulaimon carried the Blue Devils for much of the game—Jefferson pulled down 15 of Duke's 31 rebounds and Sulaimon scored 21 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute—Capel maintained that the Virginia game showcased his entire team. All 11 scholarship players saw the floor for the Blue Devils as head coach Mike Krzyzewski employed a sub-early, sub-often approach, switching out all five players every few minutes. As a result, players were better-rested down the stretch as Duke held off a furious comeback attempt from the Cavaliers.
"It was pretty noticeable as we watched that Clemson game, especially in the second half, that guys were playing tired, guys were pacing themselves. That's one of the things we talked about changing," Capel said. "I don't think we went into the game thinking we were going to do five-for-five, it's just something that happened. The second unit came in, they did a phenomenal job, they came in with energy, enthusiasm and rebounded and defended and ran our motion. At the end of the game we had guys that we thought were a little more fresh and that's why we were able to make some plays at the end of the game."
Against N.C. State, Capel said the Blue Devils (13-4, 2-2 in the ACC) might not sub five at a time, but would continue to explore its depth as the game goes on.
The Wolfpack (11-6, 1-3) will make the short trip from Raleigh looking to wipe a sour taste from their mouth. Following a 31-point shellacking at home against Virginia, N.C. State lost 70-69 Wednesday at Wake Forest, the decisive bucket coming on a coast-to-coast lay-up by Wake Forest's Codi Miller-McIntyre with 4.9 seconds remaining. Even with sophomore star T.J. Warren riddled with foul trouble and on the bench for the final play after fouling out, the Wolfpack had a chance to win their second ACC road game, but Miller-McIntyre benefitted from a defensive lapse on the part of freshman Anthony "Cat" Barber and an apparent travel to earn the Demon Deacons the win.
The 2013-14 season was expected to be a rebuilding year for head coach Mark Gottfried after a mass exodus from his program following the end of last season. Richard Howell and Scott Wood graduated, C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown decided to forego their senior seasons and Rodney Purvis opted to transfer to Connecticut. In their stead are six freshmen and two transfers eligible to play this season, with a third—Trevor Lacey of Alabama—sitting out until 2014-15.
Warren and sophomore Tyler Lewis are the only returners who averaged double-digit minutes for Gottfried last season, and it is the former who will command Duke's complete attention Saturday.
"Warren is as good a scorer as there is in college basketball," Capel said. "He puts pressure on the defense constantly, because he can score in every way that a person can score. He's great in transition, really good in the mid-range, can shoot it from range, can play off the bounce or in the post, and he's a very very good offensive rebounder. He's a young man that's probably hungrier than anyone in our league to score the basketball."
In this way, Warren —who leads the ACC by scoring 22.2 points per game and averages 7.4 rebounds per contest—resembles Clemson's K.J. McDaniels, a versatile scorer who can do it all for his team when necessary. But last Saturday, it was the Tiger role players who made the big difference in Clemson's 72-59 victory against Duke. The Wolfpack feature a similarly talented supporting cast capable of ending the Blue Devils' 26-game home winning streak.
Junior college transfer Desmond Lee has been an aggressive slasher all season, averaging 10.2 points per game, and LSU transfer Ralston Turner is the team's best 3-point threat, posting a 41-percent clip from beyond the arc. Barber, a freshman, has supplanted Lewis as the Wolfpack's starting point guard and ranks second only to Warren in points and minutes per game.
The young Wolfpack squad has not been intimidated by playing away from home this season—N.C. State knocked off Notre Dame in South Bend, 77-70, something the Blue Devils were unable to accomplish earlier this month. Capel said road success can provide a team with both confidence and chemistry moving forward in a season.
"When you go on the road sometimes it can bond you and make you closer, and it certainly looks like they had that kind of performance when they were at Notre Dame," Capel said. "[On Saturday] we expect them to run their stuff and play loose and free, play with confidence. We have to come in and be aggressive, defend, play with a sense of urgency, some of the same things we did against Virginia the other night."