The late basketball legend Kobe Bryant was known for his relentless effort on the court and meticulous attention to detail.
The ninth-ranked Blue Devils, who honored Bryant, his daughter and the rest of the victims who lost their lives in the tragic helicopter crash over the weekend before the national anthem Tuesday night, seemed to embody the five-time NBA champion with their 79-67 win against Pittsburgh in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"I think the whole basketball community has been extremely down and hasn’t been like this for a long time," Tre Jones said. "Everyone who looked up to him. He was an idol for almost all basketball players out there."
Duke’s 'Mamba Mentality' showed against the Panthers, as blocked shots, offensive rebounds and overall hustle were abundant for the home team. Freshman Cassius Stanley set the tone early for the Blue Devils, diving to secure an offensive board before throwing down a one-handed, rim-level slam. Stanley who finished with just 11 points in only 26 minutes, made his impact outside of the box score, as his tenacity was echoed by the rest of his teammates. Stanley and fellow freshmen Wendell Moore and Michael Savarino wore Kobe’s in Duke’s warmups.
Despite trailing for most of the game, a late second-half spurt by Pittsburgh provided a scare to the Blue Devils (17-3, 7-2 in the ACC), as the lid on the rim seemed to close up for Duke. A 24-6 run by the Panthers brought them within five points with six minutes left in the game. Matthew Hurt’s fourth foul hurt the Blue Devils, as Krzyzewski sat the forward to prevent him from fouling out. This opened a defensive hole in the paint, which Pittsburgh took advantage of.
"Sometimes when you get tired, I don't know, It’s that ebb and flow," Krzyzewski said. "It’s what makes human beings human beings. Sometimes the other guy is just better."
The Panthers (13-7, 4-6) eventually brought the game within three points, as Duke relinquished an 18-point lead. But just when things seemed to get out of hand, Stanley kept the Blue Devils in check, draining a 3-pointer in the clutch to help Duke come away victorious. A late block from Jack White put an exclamation point on a hard-fought win by the Blue Devils.
"In the second half, it looked like we were tired, and we weren't as aggressive," Krzyzewski said. "There's a lot of game pressure on our kids. Then in the last four minutes, they were magnificent, which says a lot about the character of our guys."
Duke’s early offensive struggles weren’t the only things giving head coach Mike Krzyzewski headaches. Near the end of the first half, a Cameron Crazie chant of “Jeff Capel sit with us,” was met with scorn and anger as Krzyzewski told his fans to “Shut up”, later yelling “[Capel’s] one of us.”
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Vernon Carey Jr. displayed what it means to outwork your opponent, something Bryant prided himself on throughout his career. Carey could not be stopped down low, scoring 24 points and corralling 13 rebounds, five of them offensive. Time and time again, Carey found a way to keep offensive possessions alive, also erasing opportunities for the Panthers, coming away with a block.
The Blue Devils also took advantage of a porous Panther perimeter defense, hitting nine of their 26 attempted 3-point attempts. An unsuspecting Jordan Goldwire led the way with three long-range makes, continuing his surprising offensive breakout.
"He puts in the work every single day and he knows that if he wants to be out there, and if he wants to make the impact he can make, he has to do that," Jones said. "When they're helping off him which they did tonight, he's ready and he has the confidence. We all have the confidence in him to step up and hit those shots.”
Pittsburgh opted for a 2-3 zone late in the first half, which could have stumped the Blue Devils, who occasionally struggle from deep. However, it was met with triple after triple, as Duke jumped out to a 11-point lead to finish the first half.
Still, the Blue Devils struggled at times offensively in their half-court set. Despite attaining multiple defensive stops and numerous near-double digit leads, offensive droughts allowed the Panthers to stay competitive through most of the first half. The Panthers did not make it easy for the Blue Devils to find open shots, and if not for Duke’s efficiency on fast breaks, Pittsburgh might have kept the game close. However, once the Blue Devils earned their cushiony lead, they never looked back.
The Blue Devils will travel to Syracuse this Saturday to face the Orange, continuing the team’s ACC slate.