It might have been the abundance of palm trees or the calm crashing of the Atlantic Ocean waves against the South Beach shoreline. Or maybe it was the two-and-a-half hour trip to Coral Gables, Fla.
Whatever it was left the Blue Devils sluggish and lethargic in their matchup against the Hurricanes Monday evening. And in the end, Duke fell to Miami 77-75 at the Watsco Center, snapping its two-game win streak just two days after the team’s best showing of the season against Clemson.
“We acted like a real young team,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We did not play well. Bottom line…I didn’t think we competed.”
After an even first half, Miami did not go away in the second half as Duke hoped it would. Though the Hurricanes didn't necessarily find an efficient way to beat the Blue Devils’ zone, they locked in on the defensive side of the ball, holding the visiting squad to a putrid 36.4 percent mark from the floor in the first nine minutes of the final period.
Duke (7-6, 5-4 in the ACC) had countless opportunities to regain the lead down the stretch. In the same fashion as the first period, however, a string of mental errors made it impossible to do so. Despite the Blue Devil zone’s effectiveness for a long stretch, Miami (7-10, 3-9) still found a way to attack the rim at the end of the game to secure the win through alley-oops and strong finishes. Hurricane guards Elijah Olaniyi and Isaiah Wong played a huge role in putting the game away, finishing with 21 and 16 points, respectively, on a combined 14-of-20 mark from the floor.
A late 3-pointer by DJ Steward allowed Duke to come within three points with less than three minutes of play left in the game. Jalen Johnson answered the call two plays later with a strong drive to the rim to bring the Blue Devils within two points.
But Duke just couldn’t do enough to come all the way back. The final minute became a foul game, and off a missed free throw with four seconds left, Johnson rebounded the ball and pushed up the court.
As the clock ticked down, however, Johnson jumped and passed to Matthew Hurt, who couldn't get his 3-point attempt off before the buzzer sounded.
Duke has had a difficult time finding good shots all season, relying on grueling defensive sets to stay afloat. Tonight’s matchup was no different, as a full three minutes into the game the scoreboard showed 2-3 in favor of Miami. However, it seemed that a strong baseline drive to the rim by Wendell Moore Jr. took the lid off the rim for both teams. For about five minutes, the Hurricanes and the Blue Devils traded baskets, as Steward and Johnson took the scoring burden early on.
One bright spot for Duke was the continued efficient contributions from Moore. Despite having a less-than-desirable season thus far, the sophomore seems to have found his way in recent games, learning his role and letting the game come to him rather than pressing too hard on the gas. Moore finished with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting, even hitting a key 3-pointer down the stretch to bring Duke within one point.
In addition, Mark Williams played a big role in keeping Duke in the game as the anchor of the team's 3-2 zone. Williams ended with four blocks, forcing the Hurricanes to get a big chunk of their offense from 3-point shooting. In the end, though, the Blue Devils’ carelessness with the ball cost them.
One game after turning the ball over just nine times against Clemson, the Blue Devils almost matched that number in just one half of play, with Krzyzewski looking increasingly frustrated after each giveaway. Miami scored eight points off eight first-half turnovers by Duke.
“We threw it right to them where they got layups,” Krzyzewski said. “We were very soft…[the Blue Devils] are really young...if we don’t play hard we’re gonna lose.”
Even Jordan Goldwire, who leads the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio, found it difficult to execute. After ripping a Hurricane guard for a characteristic open court steal in the first half, Goldwire found a way to blow the wide open layup he earned for himself.
“I’m really disappointed in our team,” Krzyzewski said. “They did not play like a Duke basketball team tonight, and obviously I’m responsible for that.”
Hurt continued to be an offensive go-to for the Blue Devils, as he finished with 21 points on 7-for-15 shooting. His faceoff game was nearly perfect, as per usual, and his contributions were a key factor in Duke staying in the game.
Duke will face off against North Carolina Saturday evening in Cameron Indoor Stadium to try and regain some of the momentum clearly lost in South Beach.
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