CORAL GABLES, Fla.—After losing at the buzzer Wednesday the Blue Devils found themselves in another close contest against a team that has caused them troubles in years past.
And once again, Duke found itself leaving the court in defeat as fans dressed in orange stormed the court.
The 10th-ranked Blue Devils fell to Miami 55-50 Saturday at the Watsco Center. Duke finished with its lowest scoring output of the year, and its 50 points were its fewest since February 2009. With the loss, the Blue Devils split the season series with the Hurricanes and fell to Miami for the fifth time in six seasons.
“It can be frustrating. We had that little winning streak about seven games and we just can’t assume that we’re going to keep winning,” sophomore Luke Kennard said. “We have to continue to build together and after the Syracuse loss, it was a tough loss. I don’t think we were very aggressive. We didn’t execute well and we didn’t hit shots.”
After trailing by as many as 10 points early in the second half, Duke rallied behind the play of Kennard, Frank Jackson and Jayson Tatum. But the Blue Devils (22-7, 10-6 in the ACC) went scoreless for more than three minutes after a Tatum jumper with 3:46 remaining and missed five consecutive shots down the stretch as the Hurricanes pulled away.
Although Kennard connected on a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to three with eight seconds left, Duke let Miami freshman Bruce Brown—who led all scorers with 25 points—get behind the defense for a game-sealing dunk. The Hurricanes (20-8, 10-6) shot just 37.9 percent from the field, but Brown made 11 of their 22 shots to help extend their winning streak to four.
Duke came into the game without the services of junior Grayson Allen, who was ruled out with an ankle injury. But the Blue Devils were also hurt by the lingering injury concerns for graduate student Amile Jefferson that led to only five second-half minutes for the big man. Allen and Jefferson will both be re-evaluated before Tuesday’s game against No. 19 Florida State and could be held out as Duke looks to get healthy before the postseason.
“Amile, he’s not running because of his injury and I didn’t play him most of the second half,” Krzyzewski said. “He wasn’t running. We kept Grayson out because of his injury and we need those guys to calm people down on the offensive end. The continuity on the offensive end is not up to par with the defense.”
With Allen out and Jefferson limited, Miami’s defensive intensity proved to be tough for Duke to handle as the Blue Devils committed 13 turnovers and Tatum and Kennard struggled to find the range for much of the game. Despite finishing just 10-of-36 from the floor combined, the tandem got hot midway through the second half with nine consecutive points between them to get Duke back into the game after Miami opened up a 33-23 lead.
After Tatum and Kennard gave Duke momentum with their spurt, Jackson stepped to the forefront and made his mark with seven straight points in a little more than a minute to help the Blue Devils tie the game at 39 with 8:42 remaining.
In Allen’s absence, Duke turned to the Alpine, Utah, native for heavy minutes, including time as the team’s primary ball-handler. Jackson made the most of his added minutes, sparking the Blue Devils with his defensive intensity and using his quickness to attack Miami in the first half. The freshman finished with 16 points—his highest scoring output since Nov. 23 against William & Mary—but, like his teammates, struggled down the stretch.
“[Frank has] had a terrific year,” Krzyzewski said. “He plays with such passion—how hard he plays. He gave us a big boost today. Frank has been a starter at times and in my mind, it’s like putting another starter in.”
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Despite the sweltering weather outside the Watsco Center, both teams started cold from the floor and stayed that way. The Blue Devils shot just 34.5 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes and committed seven turnovers, as the team tied a season-low with 21 first-half points. With the Hurricanes turning to a zone defense early in the game against Duke’s bigger lineup, the Blue Devils had a tough time getting good looks from the perimeter.
The Hurricanes were not much better and relied on a 13-point first half from Brown to stay in the game. Miami was able to weather its own shooting struggles by capitalizing on Duke’s miscues to finish the game with 18 points off turnovers.
An 11-2 run for the Hurricanes to begin the second half gave Miami its largest lead of the contest at 33-23 and put the home team in position to hand the Blue Devils a second consecutive loss.
Although Duke was able to fight back and make the game tight throughout the final 10 minutes, the Blue Devils never took the lead in the second half. With two tough games—a home matchup against Florida State and a road contest against No. 8 North Carolina—remaining, Duke finds itself needing to regroup in order to avoid slipping even farther in a cutthroat ACC.
“I think this game is pretty much indicative of all the games in our conference,” Krzyzewski said. “There are just a couple plays, a bigger performance like by Brown, something that separates you just a little bit. You don’t need much separation because all of the teams are so damn competitive.”