NEW YORK - Heads drooping and eyes downcast, the Blue Devils packed their bags in a somber locker room Thursday evening at Madison Square Garden. They would be back in Durham Friday morning, then packing their bags again and scattering across the country.
For the first time this season, Duke was going home with a loss.
It was a tough one for the Blue Devils to lose-an overtime battle in front of a rowdy, sell-out crowd against a team with a 10-0 record just like their own. No one said the Blue Devils should have been happy about it.
"I'm very disappointed," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "You come here, you're playing in the Garden against a really good team and an outstanding program, we should have had much more energy and toughness than we did tonight."
Duke--which had not lost a game in December since 2000--had set its expectations higher. The decidedly pro-Duke crowd of 19,544 put the pressure on a team that already wanted to enter its vacation with a win.
"You got to love playing in places like this, where it's sold out and you're playing a team like Pitt," sophomore Gerald Henderson said. "When you lose, it's never a good feeling. It'd be great to win this game, obviously, but we didn't. We didn't do the things to win and it hurts."
The one-point margin of the loss might have made the defeat slightly more painful. After seemingly pulling away from the Pittsburgh in the first half, 33-24, the Blue Devils faltered after the break. Duke struggled to sink its shots and allowed the Panthers a 10-minute, 12-0 run that started five minutes into the second half and ended with Pittsburgh leading, 50-48.
Duke made its comeback in regulation-thanks to Henderson's tying jumper with less than a minute on the clock. And the Blue Devils played hard in the back-and-forth, foul-ridden overtime, too. But it wasn't enough, as Levance Fields netted a three-point jumper with six seconds remaining in overtime to sieze the win.
"It'll sit in guys for a while, obviously," Henderson said. "We have a pretty long layoff, so it'll hurt. It'll hurt, but at some point we have to move on from this we have to get ready for the rest of the season."
And it will hurt for a long time, because Duke will be off the court as a team for more than two weeks. The Blue Devils will not return to practice until Dec. 28.
Duke will not have another chance to redeem itself from its first loss, either, until Jan. 6 against Cornell at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"We didn't do what we wanted to do, so we didn't feel very good," junior captain Greg Paulus said. "We're not doing what we wanted to do, so we just have to get out there and get to working hard."
Perhaps a break could help. Thursday night's game was the Blue Devils' toughest matchup to date this season, and easily took place in the most intense atmosphere they have experienced. Time to take in the feeling of a loss-and the need for redemption that accompanies it-might prove beneficial for Duke.
"Hopefully we'll learn from it," Krzyzewski said. "We've got games like this and then we're going on a break. This team has been a really good team and fun team for me to coach. I really like my kids."
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