Just one week ago, Duke was rolling with a seven-game winning streak and a No. 10 ranking, looking like a team that was about to peak at the right time with all its pieces finally in place.
But a lot can change in seven days—and coming off consecutive losses to unranked teams, there is still no rest for the weary Blue Devils.
After dropping back-to-back contests to Syracuse and Miami last week, No. 17 Duke will look to right the ship Tuesday at 7 p.m. against No. 15 Florida State for Senior Night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils began last week tied for second in the ACC standings but now find themselves tied for fifth, desperately needing a win against the Seminoles to keep alive any hopes of a double bye in the conference tournament.
“It’s tough, it’s the season, it’s what the season does. We went through all those tough conference wars to win seven in a row and now we just have to find a way to bounce back,” freshman Harry Giles said after Saturday's 55-50 loss at Miami. “We’re going to turn it around, we’re going to find a way, we always do. We need to look on these last two losses, see what we did and how we can get better and capitalize on that and be better.”
With junior Grayson Allen sidelined against the Hurricanes due to a lingering ankle injury, the Blue Devils struggled mightily on offense and managed a season-low 50 points. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski was noncommittal about Allen’s availability for Tuesday night on the ACC's weekly teleconference Monday, and said that forward Amile Jefferson—who played just five second-half minutes Saturday—could be restricted moving forward as well, leaving the Blue Devils without two of their most seasoned veterans. Krzyzewski said that both players went through some practice Sunday but are game-time decisions.
The nagging injuries to Allen and Jefferson are just the latest in a series of circumstances that has prevented Duke from developing continuity on the court and in the locker room. Giles and fellow rookie big man Marques Bolden played heavier minutes Saturday than they had been getting recently, but there is still a ways to go for the freshmen, and the team as a whole, to reach their potential.
Although Giles grabbed eight rebounds and Bolden posted three blocks Saturday, the tandem combined to go 1-of-7 from the field in 33 total minutes, often looking uneasy when they caught the ball inside.
“In the second half, four of the six guys playing are freshmen. The two big guys just haven’t had the experience because of injuries,” Krzyzewski said. “So they’re cutting their teeth so to speak in the 16th ACC game in late February. I think the continuity on the offensive end is not up to par with the defense.”
Since dominating the Blue Devils 88-72 at home in early January while Krzyzewski was recovering from lower-back surgery and Jefferson was out with his right-foot bone bruise, Florida State (23-6, 11-5 in the ACC) has cooled off a bit and gone just 2-5 away from Tallahassee. Led by the trio of Dwayne Bacon, Jonathan Isaac and Xavier Rathan-Mayes—which combined for 45 points against Duke in the teams’ first contest—the Seminoles are incredibly deep and play a very physical style that could give the banged up and depth-strapped Blue Devils some trouble.
All five starters for Duke (22-7, 10-6) average more minutes than Bacon, who leads Florida State with 28.1 per contest. The Blue Devils have rarely had more than two bench players play significant minutes in any game, but will have to come up with an answer for the Seminoles’ 12-man rotation that keeps fresh legs on the floor and allows them to push the pace.
For a Duke team that looked particularly listless Saturday at Miami, keeping up with Florida State’s energy at home will be a pivotal key to getting things going in the right direction again.
“We’ve just got to click. Everything’s not clicking. It’s hard, it’s a list of things,” Giles said. “We just have to be all together, everybody on the same page offensively and defensively. It’s just little things really, more energy, passion.”
Few players embody the energy and passion Giles referred to more than Jefferson and senior Matt Jones, who will both be honored before Tuesday’s game as part of the Senior Night festivities. Both captains have appeared in more than 130 games in a Duke uniform, and Tuesday will be the last chance for the fan favorites to play in front of the Cameron Crazies.
But with the Blue Devils far from where they want to be come tournament time, sentimental thank-yous will have to take a backseat to on-court performance against the Seminoles, as well as Saturday’s regular-season finale at No. 5 North Carolina.
“They all can’t [wait] for our group to find who we are and to find a sense of ourselves and to change,” Jefferson said. “Two games are an opportunity for us to get back on track and to save our season. We played two teams that were desperate, and now we’re the desperate team.”
Sam Turken and Sameer Pandhare contributed reporting.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.