Even though they were beating Miami Saturday 38-31 at half, the No. 3 Blue Devils entered the locker room for the third consecutive game having played a lackluster first period.
This time, though, it was different.
Fundamentally, Duke was doing everything right in the first half of its eventual 88-73 win. Despite a collective 37 fouls that disrupted the flow of play, the team shot well from beyond the arc, drew the fouls off the drive and played tough defense.
But the shots just weren't falling. The Blue Devils went for more than 16 minutes without scoring a 2-point field goal and converted only 10 of their 21 shots from the charity stripe.
"At halftime, instead of doing a lot of yelling and screaming, I told them to settle down and keep playing hard," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "When a team's not shooting well, you don't yell at them."
Duke (19-1, 7-0 in the ACC) kicked into gear at the start of the second half. Senior captain DeMarcus Nelson stepped up to end the Blue Devils' shooting slump and keep Duke perfect in conference play.
With a steal and four points within the first two minutes after the break, Nelson grabbed an offensive rebound and muscled his way in for a second-attempt basket. On the ensuing possession, Nelson stripped Miami guard Lance Hurdle at midcourt and ended his uncontested breakaway with a resounding dunk that sent the Cameron Crazies into a frenzy.
"We came out [strong] in the second half-seems like that's kind of been our M.O.," freshman Kyle Singler said. "It was a good start... kind of put them down, and we just sustained that for the rest of the 20 minutes."
Nelson kept the crowd on its feet when he broke free on the baseline the next play. The senior flashed to the basket, catching an entry pass from Singler and finishing with an acrobatic reverse layup that gave Duke its largest and first double-digit lead of the game, 51-40. On the following possession, Nelson assisted Singler on a 3-pointer to continue the Blue Devils' 24-13 run, which resulted in an 18-point lead with a little more than 13 minutes left in the game.
"That was the story of the game," Kryzewski said of the series. "I'm proud of the win and another ACC victory."
Miami (15-6, 2-5) was never able to recover from the deficit as Duke shot a consistent 51.7 percent from the field in the second. In that period, Nelson scored 19 of his 21 points and Singler sunk 12 of his 14. Junior Greg Paulus rounded off the team's top scoring with 16 points of his own.
The first half, however, was a completely different story offensively. The Blue Devils relied heavily on their 3-point shooting to stay in the game, notching 24 of their 38 points from beyond the arc. Paulus sank four 3-pointers to lead the team in scoring with 12 points in the half.
"It was just a matter of us relaxing and figuring out what's going on out on the court and exploiting it," Nelson said. "In the first half, we were doing great. We were playing well-we just didn't convert.
"So that was just the difference of the game. [In the] second half, we wanted to just keep our defense up and play basketball."
The Blue Devils' defense was consistent throughout the contest, holding Miami's leading scorer Jack McClinton-who had been averaging 17.2 points in ACC play-to 10 Saturday. Duke forced 14 turnovers on the night and stole the ball five times, with a team-high two coming from Nelson and four in the second half.
Although the Hurricanes enjoyed a height advantage, Duke was scrappy down low. The Blue Devils swatted away seven shots to Miami's none and outrebounded the Hurricanes, 41-36. Nelson, Paulus, and sophomore Gerald Henderson-all guards-led the team with six rebounds apiece.
"A lot of people say we're not really big or don't have a big man, but for some reason sometimes we do outrebound teams," Singler said. "That's something special about our team. Mostly our guards get the rebounds, so we're just out there trying to get a piece of our man and wherever the ball goes, it's a fight for position and go grab that ball."
Amid all the hype surrounding the North Carolina game Wednesday, the Blue Devils stayed focused and took care of business with two ACC wins against N.C. State and Miami in three days.
"You can't look ahead too far and we didn't want to take anything for granted, especially with the good teams that were coming here the last couple of days," Paulus said. "We knew we needed to play well, and I thought we did a good job of that today."
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.