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Duke men's basketball looks to take care of business against Miami at home

<p>Alex O'Connell dominated against Syracuse, but was not as effective Tuesday.</p>

Alex O'Connell dominated against Syracuse, but was not as effective Tuesday.

First true road loss. Two losses in three games. 

Without star freshman forward Zion Williamson, Duke finds itself in uncharted territory this season as Miami comes to town. Luckily for the Blue Devils, they will be facing off against a Hurricanes team that has been struggling in its own right.

No. 3 Duke will host Miami at 4 p.m. Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium in its second to last regular season home game of the year. The Blue Devils will be eager to rebound from a hard-fought 77-72 loss against No. 20 Virginia Tech Tuesday, which scored a go-ahead three with 90 seconds remaining to pull off the upset.

In that game, offense was again hard to come by for Duke without Williamson, who averages 21.6 points per game and remains listed as day-to-day with a knee sprain. The Blue Devils put up just 72 points, well below their season average of 85, as freshman guard R.J. Barrett and forward Cam Reddish again carried the load by combining for 38 points. Sophomore guard Alex O’Connell—who was inserted into the starting lineup against Syracuse and responded with a career-high 20 points—scored just six Tuesday in 20 minutes. 

“I think my guys have adapted well,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They won at Syracuse and they played winning basketball. Look, it’s one play. If they miss that shot and we score, we might have won. This isn’t like we’re not adapting. We’re fighting like crazy with him being out.”

Meanwhile, in a season full of heartbreaking defeats, Miami (12-15, 4-11 in the ACC) is coming off one of its worst, in which it blew a 10-point lead to Wake Forest with less than two minutes to play. Just like Virginia Tech, the Demon Deacons sealed the deal with a late-game dagger three to come away with a 76-75 victory. The Hurricanes were led by 5-foot-7 sophomore guard Chris Lykes, who poured in 26 points on 6-of-10 shooting from deep. The streaky shooting of Lykes has been emblematic of his team's up-and-down season, as strings of solid games are riddled with head-scratchers like his 0-of-12, one-point performance against Florida State. 

“[We have to] try to calm him down in transition to start off with,” freshman guard Tre Jones said on his upcoming defensive assignment. “They like to iso a lot, so we’ve got to take away that and force him into tough shots.” 

Miami has been no stranger to losses on the road—a winless road campaign this year features everything from an overtime 88-85 defeat at then-No. 8 North Carolina to an ugly 73-53 blowout at Syracuse. In fact, the Hurricanes’ last road win was more than a year ago—an upset at then-No. 9 North Carolina on Feb. 27, 2018. That game was also Miami’s last victory against a ranked opponent—the team has gone 0-7 since. 

Despite the Hurricanes' struggles, the Blue Devils (24-4, 12-3) cannot afford to overlook any team this late in the season. The loss to Virginia Tech put Duke strictly behind Virginia and North Carolina in the ACC rankings, as they each have two conference defeats. Aside from seeding for the ACC tournament, Selection Sunday is also right around the corner on March 17. 

While it’s easy to look one week ahead to the rematch at North Carolina and the upcoming tournament season, the Blue Devils understand what they have to do Saturday. 

“We’ve learned a few lessons those last three games. The biggest one is that we’ve got to continue to prepare and we’ve got to love preparing,” O’Connell said. “Especially when March comes around, we’re going to have more games in tighter windows, and we’ve got to remember that we’ve got to stay mentally focused and always be ready for a game.”


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