Throughout its history, Duke has relied on the crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium to intimidate opposing teams and provide the momentum needed to spur the Blue Devils on to victory.
But through two road games in the ACC, the tables have turned, with the Blue Devils struggling to match the intensity of their opponents and stay composed in hostile environments.
No. 7 Duke will look to notch its first conference road win of the year when the Blue Devils battle No. 14 Louisville Saturday at noon at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. Coming off a 16-point blowout loss at No. 9 Florida State, Duke will look to avoid falling below .500 in ACC play through at least five games for the first time since 2006-07.
“That is the nature of the league, we prepare for it like any other game,” interim head coach Jeff Capel said. “We are in a very tough league and so every game is going to be very high-level game but this why these kids choose to play in the ACC because they want to play against that competition.
The Blue Devils (14-3, 2-2 in the ACC) tied a season-high 16 turnovers and were pummeled on the boards by a bigger Seminole frontcourt Tuesday. Without co-captain Amile Jefferson, who missed the contest with a right-foot bone bruise, Duke was forced to rely on the trio of Harry Giles, Marques Bolden and Chase Jeter to clean up the glass.
“Everybody had to play bigger. Everybody had to rebound more since we were down a big man,” freshman Jayson Tatum said. “We just had to adjust.”
But the adjustment has been more difficult than expected with Giles and Bolden struggling with foul trouble and Jeter having problems with more physical players in the post.
Jefferson was expected to be re-evaluated Wednesday but no indication has been made about whether the graduate student will suit up against the Cardinals (14-3, 2-2). The Philadelphia native was in a boot and walked with a slight limp during the loss to Florida State. If there was ever a time when the Blue Devils needed Jefferson, Saturday’s game would be it—like Florida State, Louisville plays a number of versatile wings that could exploit Duke on the boards.
Perhaps the bigger adjustment Duke will need to make, regardless of whether Jefferson takes the court, is how it deals with the Cardinals’ full-court pressure.
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino’s defense places a premium on turnovers and has already forced other high-powered offenses like Kentucky and Indiana into miserable shooting nights this season.
The Cardinals rank just outside the top 10 in the nation in scoring defense and have held opponents to just 28.5 percent shooting from deep this season. Guard Donovan Mitchell and center Anas Mahmoud have been particularly stout, with Mitchell leading the conference in steals and Mahmoud sitting second in the ACC in blocks per game.
One of the biggest differences in Duke’s conference games at home as opposed to on the road has been its ball movement.
Even considering that the Blue Devils’ tougher ACC games to this point have come on the road, Duke has struggled to execute its offense away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils have assisted on 62.9 percent of their made field goals in conference wins against Georgia Tech and Boston College, but that mark drops to just 35.3 percent away from home.
In order to reverse the trend, the Blue Devils may need junior Grayson Allen to revert to a scoring mentality. Since his return from a one-game suspension, Allen has become Duke’s primary ball-handler and led the team in assists in three consecutive games.
But with Tatum struggling at times against long, athletic defenders and a limited interior presence without Jefferson, the Blue Devils need Allen—who racked up 29 points at the KFC Yum! Center a year ago—to look for his shot after attempting just six shots against Florida State. The guard struggled to score efficiently earlier this season as he battled a turf toe, but will need to make his presence felt with Louisville likely making a concerted effort to contain sharpshooter Luke Kennard.
Although a more aggressive Allen could help Duke’s offense, the junior will need to keep his head in another tough road environment—one that will berate him after his trip of Cardinal forward Ray Spalding at Cameron Indoor Stadium last season. Allen fouled out down the stretch of last season’s visit to Louisville and picked up a late technical foul.
“I guess it’s just trying to find that balance,” Allen said following Duke’s win against Georgia Tech. “Like I said, I can do a much better job of [controlling my physicality] when everything is just focused on what we’re doing….not worrying about any foul calls, missed shots, physcial play, anything like that.”
Through four ACC games, the Blue Devils are far from the team many envisioned when they began the season ranked No. 1 in the country.
And with almost half the season behind it, Duke must begin racking up key conference victories to avoid slipping any farther.
“With a young team, we just got to take our lumps and grow from it,” senior Matt Jones said. “It’s not the end all, be all right now. It’s still January, so we just have to keep getting better and fighting.”
Hank Tucker contributed reporting.
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