Duke mens basketball visits Pittsburgh for third chance at ACC road win

Grayson Allen scored just eight points against N.C. State and is shooting 33 percent from the field in conference play.
Grayson Allen scored just eight points against N.C. State and is shooting 33 percent from the field in conference play.

Elon, Utah Valley, Furman, Portland State, South Dakota and St. Francis. 

These teams have all been better than Pittsburgh on offense, according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings, not to mention every major conference team Duke has played so far. 

With a defense in tatters and fresh off a rock-bottom performance against N.C. State Saturday, the Panthers present a chance at redemption for a Duke team that has given up at least 89 points in every ACC game thus far. The No. 7 Blue Devils will travel to Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. Wednesday to take on the Panthers, who return just two players from last season’s roster and have struggled to find any sort of offensive rhythm. 

In its second conference road loss of the season to the Wolfpack Saturday night, Duke’s interior defense was sliced up in the paint—breaking the mold of its usual struggles from defending the perimeter. N.C. State shot just 35.7 percent from deep after both Boston College and then-No. 24 Florida State rained in 15 threes in the Blue Devils’ two previous conference games. 

“We’re playing just horrible defense, and we understand that, we’re working on it and that’s all you can do,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said in the ACC’s weekly teleconference Monday. “We may have done a few certain segments, like at the end of the Florida State game and stuff like that, but part of it too is the development of a little bit more bench strength, so maybe even for a couple minutes at a time, we can stay fresher.”

Duke (13-2, 1-2 in the ACC) will be without two of his biggest weapons off the bench, post players Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier, which should give others some more minutes. Even with Bolden out with an MCL sprain Saturday, Krzyzewski used a six-man rotation with just DeLaurier playing significant minutes off the bench. 

The 38-year Blue Devil head coach said that Antonio Vrankovic, Justin Robinson and even Jack White should be ready to see more time as bigs with DeLaurier out with a hamstring injury. The group of three has seen an average of just 14.4 minutes per game combined this year, and though White plays more as a guard, Krzyzewski thinks he has the size to fill in at the post. 

Especially with Wendell Carter Jr.’s tendency to fall into foul trouble, that depth will be crucial, even against a Panthers team that has not been good on offense. Pittsburgh (8-8, 0-3) will also likely be without its leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, Ryan Luther, for the sixth straight game. 

The Panthers will roll out plenty of four-guard lineups with little post depth behind Luther—Terrell Brown and Kene Chukwuka have largely been ineffective in trying to replace Luther. Among the problems for Pittsburgh: turnovers. The Panthers rank among the worst in the nation in turnovers per possession, and have also struggled mightily from beyond the arc. 

But Pittsburgh has done well in one of Duke’s vulnerable spots against N.C. State—around the rim. The Blue Devils gave up 44 points in the paint to a less talented Wolfpack team, as Bagley and Carter struggled to stop pick and rolls and transition buckets. 

And one of the Panthers’ top guards—Shamiel Stevenson—has excelled around the basket, taking nearly 70 percent of his shots at the rim this season, according to Hoop-Math.com. For context, Bagley takes just 55.3 percent of his shots at the rim. And Stevenson has been remarkably efficient in those attempts, making nearly 64 percent of his tries. 

Senior captain Grayson Allen will have to rally a struggling defense and get his shot back on track. Allen has shot just 33 percent from the field in conference play, including an abysmal 5-of-23 from deep. 

“He’s not played well in these three conference games, and he knows it. We have confidence that he will play well,” Krzyzewski said. “I think part of it is the adjustment of playing with new guys. He has to hunt his shot, and we have to get something in transition. We haven’t really hit a transition three in a while, and that’s a major part of our offense, especially for him. He really hasn’t had that, and that kind of gets him going.”

Hank Tucker contributed reporting. 

Ben Leonard profile
Ben Leonard

Managing Editor 2018-19, 2019-2020 Features & Investigations Editor 

A member of the class of 2020 hailing from San Mateo, Calif., Ben is The Chronicle's Towerview Editor and Investigations Editor. Outside of the Chronicle, he is a public policy major working towards a journalism certificate, has interned at the Tampa Bay Times and NBC News and frequents Pitchforks. 


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