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Beyond the arc: Duke men's basketball loses defensive genius, historic winning streak against Stephen F. Austin

<p>Stephen F. Austin was simply the tougher team Tuesday night in the Blue Devils' loss.</p>

Stephen F. Austin was simply the tougher team Tuesday night in the Blue Devils' loss.

Stephen F. Austin made history at Cameron Indoor Stadium Tuesday night—a history that will haunt Blue Devil fans for weeks, months or even longer. We break down the game that halted Duke's nonconference home game winning streak at 150. Following the Duke's first loss of the season, the Blue Zone gives you three key takeaways and three statistics from the Lumberjacks' upset win Tuesday night:

Three key takeaways:

1. Where did the defense go?

Up until Tuesday’s game, it seemed clear that defense would be the Blue Devils' strength this year, which is why the nature of the loss to the Lumberjacks is so shocking. Because of Duke’s stellar defense and occasionally shaky offense thus far, it would have been easy to assume that the loss would come in an offensive struggle. Instead, the Blue Devils gave up 81 points in regulation and another four in overtime while giving up 64 points in the paint.

After Stephen F. Austin, the next-highest scoring team in the paint against the Blue Devils was Kansas, which scored 38 interior points.

2. Lack of a go-to scorer

Down the stretch, Duke’s offense became stagnant, as no one seemed to want to step up and will the Blue Devils to victory. At times early in the season, it seemed like a couple of players could step up and fill that role. Cassius Stanley scored with incredible efficiency, Tre Jones scored 31 points against Georgia State, and Vernon Carey dominated in the 2K Empire Classic. However, when the moment mattered most against Stephen F. Austin, nobody stepped up, and the offense suffered.

3. Lesson learned

Like every Duke team in the one-and-done era, this team is inexperienced and immature. A lot of the factors that led to the Blue Devils losing this game can be attributed to immaturity. It’s better that these baby Blue Devils are put through the wringer in an early nonconference game than a crucial ACC matchup or a postseason game. With the experience of competing from the tip to the final buzzer and the bad taste left from such a crushing defeat, Duke should be able to overcome this loss and gain much-needed experience from it, which will be extremely beneficial once the games really matter.

Three key stats:

22-14: Duke’s turnover ratio from Tuesday’s game might be the single most surprising stat we see all season. Stephen F. Austin beat the Blue Devils at their own game by being extremely disruptive on defense and using their quick hands to force mistakes—22 of them, to be painfully exact. The Lumberjacks came into the game as the best team in the country in terms of turnovers forced this season, and their defensive pedigree was on display Tuesday night. Jones committed eight turnovers by himself, which is a shock coming from the sophomore who ranked sixth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman.

60 percent free throw rate: There’s something about good free throw shooting and close games that seems to be mutually exclusive for Duke. In a game where one more point would’ve been enough to win the game in regulation, the 16 points that the Blue Devils left at the free throw line loom large. Duke was only able to convert 24 of the 40 free throws they attempted against Stephen F. Austin. The Blue Devils were in the bonus early in the second half, which would’ve allowed them to bury the Lumberjacks with good shooting at the line. However, by not converting, Duke allowed them to stay in the game. The rest is history.

150: Tuesday’s loss snaps Duke’s 150 non-conference game win streak in Cameron. The Blue Devils' last home loss against a team outside the ACC came over 19 years ago against St. John’s in 2000. While any game in November should not warrant any overreactions, a loss of historic proportions like this one feels different. This Duke team’s strengths and flaws have been clear since its first game against Kansas, and unfortunately, Stephen F. Austin was able to expose those flaws and steal a game. Iron is forged in fire, and the Blue Devils could become stronger by virtue of the loss.

Looking forward

Duke plays Winthrop at 7 p.m. Friday, which should be a good opportunity to reset before traveling to Michigan State next week. While the Spartans lost to Virginia Tech on Monday, they’ll have a chip on their shoulder and see the Blue Devils as a vulnerable target to get a win that could save their season. Playing at Michigan State, and then at Virginia Tech three days later will be a huge early-season test for Duke. But again, iron is forged by fire, and if the Blue Devils want to accomplish anything meaningful this season, success in these early battles will be crucial.

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