CORAL GABLES, Fla. — The Blue Devils’ midweek voyage to South Florida was no trip to the beach. But thanks to a renewed effort after intermission, Duke won’t be coming home empty-handed.
Down by 12 points at halftime to a surging Miami squad, the Blue Devils roared out of the gates in the final 20 minutes with tenacity on defense and an offensive onslaught from their big three to secure an 81-74 comeback win over Miami Wednesday night at the BankUnited Center.
Early on, the only thing that was slower getting going than Miami’s late-arriving crowd was the Blue Devil offensive attack. Duke’s leading trio of Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler was held to only nine points in the first half by a stingy Miami zone defense that choked the lane and forced Duke to take low-percentage jumpers from outside.
Complicating matters on the other end of the court, the Hurricanes shot a net-scorching 60 percent from the floor in the first period, with forward Dwayne Collins and guard Durand Scott giving Duke defensive headaches. But Smith, Singler and Scheyer bounced back after the break with a combined 49 second-half points, providing more than sufficient firepower to give No. 6 Duke (22-4, 10-2 in the ACC) a hard-earned road win.
“Our perimeter had one of its worst halves of the year in the first half,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They played with a much different resolve, I thought, in the second half. I thought we beat a really good team tonight, a team that played their hearts out against us.”
Miami (17-9, 3-9) retired the jersey of recent star guard Jack McClinton at halftime, perhaps as a nod to the ex-Hurricane’s penchant for showing up big in games against Duke. But Miami would have needed McClinton’s presence and more to counter the Blue Devils’ spurt right after the break, which started as Singler scored the first nine points of the half to cut the Hurricanes’ lead down to five.
But Duke finally left Miami in the dust with just over five minutes to go in the game, when Scheyer finally found his shot—helped by a little dose of encouragement from a teammate.
Struggling through a 1-for-12 shooting night through the game’s first 34 minutes—including an ugly line of 1-for-8 from behind the 3-point line—Scheyer went over to Smith right before a pair of Duke free throws and asked him to say something, anything, to perk him up. Smith gladly complied, and Scheyer subsequently went down the court and sank a pair of 3-pointers to key a Duke run that would end with a crucially wide 10-point lead with just 3:11 to go.
“I was just in a weird funk, I guess you could say,” Scheyer said. “I went over to Nolan and just said, ‘Tell me something.’ And he told me something. It just gave me a little bit of confidence, just having someone say something [encouraging] to you, and I hit my next two shots.”
Scheyer was coy when asked about exactly what Smith whispered into his ear, but whatever Smith had to say sparked Scheyer, who has been hurting with back soreness for the past three weeks. Krzyzewski thought the back issue had something to do with Scheyer’s scoreless, 0-for-6 shooting performance in the first half, but the timeliness of Scheyer’s clutch shots late outweighed any concerns his coach had about the senior point guard’s early struggles.
“You always marvel at a guy in baseball who goes 5-for-5,” Krzyzewski said. “But sometimes the guy who goes 0-for-4, but in his fifth at-bat gets the winning hit—and he can also go 5-for-5—those are the guys that are special. Jon’s a special player.”
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