PITTSBURGH—After playing so many games with so few players, the Blue Devils appeared to finally succumb to fatigue Sunday.
Duke was outmanned, outmuscled and outhustled in its 76-62 loss to Pittsburgh—the team's largest defeat of the season. The Panthers, motivated by their Senior Day and their fight to push themselves onto the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble, brought all they had against the Blue Devils, commanding sizable advantages in most statistical categories that led to a 23-point lead late in the second half.
“We weren’t ready to do it tonight,” sophomore guard Grayson Allen said. “I don’t think we came out ready to rebound or fight at all. We’ve been doing it in recent games and that’s why we’ve been successful.... Tonight we didn’t do that at all.”
Although the Blue Devils’ lethargy was evident in several aspects of the game, Pittsburgh made sure it showed up crystal-clear on the glass.
Pittsburgh entered Sunday's game with the best rebounding margin in the conference, and that margin only widened after 40 minutes against Duke.
The Panthers outrebounded the Blue Devils by 19 and limited their guests to just seven offensive rebounds. On the other end, Pittsburgh gathered 16 offensive rebounds and made Duke pay for permitting them extra opportunities, scoring 19 second-chance points.
No Blue Devil had more than four rebounds, and at one point, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski trotted out a small-ball lineup featuring freshman Brandon Ingram as the undersized "center." Regardless of whether it was Ingram, Marshall Plumlee or Chase Jeter in that role, there was no stopping Jamel Artis, Michael Young and Chris Jones from grabbing rebound after rebound.
“We just weren’t ready to fight,” junior guard Matt Jones said. “Rebounding is [about] effort. It doesn’t matter how much size you have, it was effort. We didn’t give that effort today and they did.”
Beyond rebounding, the Panthers were simply more aggressive on both ends of the floor, while Duke looked timid.
Pittsburgh was the first to most loose balls, and the Blue Devils were less careful with the ball than usual, committing 13 turnovers compared to the mere five they surrendered against Florida State on Thursday.
Duke's usual zip on offense also seemed a step or two slow. The Blue Devils managed just 10 assists for the game—Pittsburgh had 20—and made just eight field goals in the second half, tied with their Feb. 20 loss at Louisville for the fewest made in a half this season.
“They were really hungry and today we were not,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Look, I love my team but I didn’t love the way we competed today.”
Defensively, Duke just could not deal with the Panthers’ bigs, and as a result, Pittsburgh owned the paint, outscoring the Blue Devils 24-6 in paint points.
Point guard James Robinson was crucial to Pittsburgh’s success on offense, as the senior—who finished with 14 points and seven assists—was able to beat his man off the dribble and consistently open up good looks for his forwards near the basket.
The Panthers were locked in on both ends of the floor, holding the Blue Devils to just 37.5 percent shooting. Offensively, head coach Jamie Dixon's squad shot 50 percent from the floor, with five players ending up in double-figures.
Duke may have played poorly, but that should not take away from an incredible Pittsburgh performance. The Panthers led from start to finish, and never let the Blue Devils get close.
“Their defense was outstanding, and their pursuit of the ball was even better,” Krzyzewski said. “We did not play our butts off today—the team we played against did.”
During Duke's five-game winning streak, the Blue Devils always seemed to be the tougher team, making the necessary hustle plays to piece together wins against some of the best teams in the ACC. But Sunday's loss was a reminder that without senior Amile Jefferson in the lineup, the Blue Devils will be undersized in many of the games they play, and maximum effort from all five players on the floor is needed to compensate for his absence.
“There were games earlier in the season where the other team played harder than us,” Allen said. “Tonight, we never really got out of it and they just put it on us for 40 minutes and we never really responded. All the hustle stats, they got. Loose balls, rebounds—they were all theirs.”
Pittsburgh played like the more desperate team Sunday, putting Duke back into a race with Notre Dame for the fourth and final double-bye in the upcoming ACC tournament. When Wake Forest comes to Cameron Indoor Stadium Tuesday night, it may be the Blue Devils playing with a chip on their shoulder, needing to lock up that coveted extra day of rest—for no other reason than to keep them repeating Sunday's worn-out performance early in the conference tournament.
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