Head coach Mike Krzyzewski said during his postgame press conference Saturday that experience always leads to growth, even when that experience may have been a bad first half or a demoralizing loss.
Sophomore Andre Dawkins proved just that in the second half when he ignited the Blue Devils with 12 of his 14 points to lead No. 1 Duke to a 76-60 win over Virginia in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The win extends the Blue Devils’ home winning streak to 30 games.
“Experience is a hell of a thing and we want to use experience to help [us] and not hurt [us],” Krzyzewski said. “Really all four of the ACC games have been like that and we’re continuing to learn.”
A disappointing performance out of the gate led Duke (16-1, 3-1 in the ACC) to trail the Cavaliers (10-7, 1-2) by as much as 10 points in the first half and by six going into halftime. Shooting a mere 8.3 percent from downtown, the Blue Devils had a hard time converting their long range shots and missed 11 of their first 12 from behind the arc. Senior Nolan Smith kept his team in the game with 13 points—however his fellow players’ lack of support made it difficult for Duke to get into any rhythm on offense.
Krzyzewski said that the sub-par offensive performance allowed Virginia to control the game’s tempo and play at a slightly slower speed. Although the Cavaliers’ defense didn’t necessarily force turnovers, he said, it also left little room for ball movement and for the Blue Devils to operate.
“We weren’t playing that badly,” Krzyzewski said. “We just could not put the ball in the basket. Certainly part of that was their defense because they make you take those [bad] shots, but those are shots I believe that our guys can hit with more regularity than they did today.”
Sophomore Ryan Kelly echoed his coach’s sentiments and said that the team couldn’t allow low shooting percentages to lead to Duke’s second loss in a row.
“We knew we had to pick it up,” Kelly said. “We were sitting there saying, ‘You know we aren’t making shots, but that is not what our focus has to be. Our focus has to be aggressive defense and we need to get stops and then our offense is going to come.’”
And indeed, in the second half, Duke picked up its defensive efforts and saw players other than Smith—who finished the contest with a game-high 29 points—contribute offensively. Dawkins’s offensive runs, including a stretch where he hit three 3-pointers in just over three minutes, inspired a new level of intensity for the Blue Devils.
Mason Plumlee was integral to Duke’s success as well and racked up a career-high 16 rebounds. Although he missed some key shots inside for the Blue Devils, the sophomore successfully executed a difficult set of assignments, including managing the defense from the inside and preventing penetration to the basket by Cavaliers’ big man, Assane Sene, who ended the night with eight points and five rebounds.
Krzyzewski made the decision to go small in the second half, rotating Smith, Dawkins, freshman Tyler Thornton and sophomore Seth Curry around Mason Plumlee at the center and senior Kyle Singler at the four position. Although this was largely because of Virginia’s goal of spreading the ball on defense, it was also due to Plumlee’s success down low. Consequently, junior Miles Plumlee was starkly missing from Saturday’s matchup and only saw four minutes of play the entire game. Krzyzewski said this was again due to the younger Plumlee’s standout performance.
“He has had 30 rebounds in the last two games,” he said. “That is an asset that is being developed.... Miles will obviously have more opportunities especially when we are playing the bigger teams.”
Saturday’s contest marked the last time that Duke held the No. 1 position in the polls. And with the status of star freshman Kyrie Irving still in the air, the team faces an uphill climb back to the top.
Krzyzewski, however, is focused not on what the team has lost, but the challenges of the present. The Blue Devils will be tested again tomorrow night at 7 p.m. when they face N.C. State in Raleigh, N.C.
“We have won a lot of games and each game is its own entity, each game is its own masterpiece, failure or success,” Krzyzewski said. “It doesn’t really make any difference what you have done in the past, it’s what you do on that particular day.”
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