CORAL GABLES, Fla.—Duke found itself at a crossroads prior to its tipoff against Miami.
The Blue Devils had struggled to stack consecutive ACC wins together all year but had finally managed to win three in a row after their most recent win against North Carolina. A victory on the road against No. 19 Miami would have sent a message across college basketball: Duke has hit its stride at the right time.
Instead, the Blue Devils crumbled and lost 81-59 in a game that the Hurricanes dominated from the first basket to the final second. But the manner in which Miami won is even more devastating than the loss itself. Duke lost because the Hurricanes gave the Blue Devils a taste of their own medicine, one that was very similar to the dosage Duke used on North Carolina over the weekend.
“It’s tough, it’s not easy, but it’s what you have to do,” head coach Jon Scheyer said of the quick turnaround after the North Carolina game. “And end of the day, [Miami] played Saturday, too, and so there’s no excuses. That’s part of playing the ACC, that’s part of playing big-time college basketball.”
For starters, Miami dominated the boards, something Duke typically does in games in which it comes out on top. The Blue Devils have out-rebounded their opponent in 16 of their 17 wins this season, but Norchad Omier and the rest of the Hurricanes stopped Duke from using that same recipe for success.
Omier pulled in 10 rebounds to pace the Hurricanes, who ended with 38 boards to Duke’s 31. Maybe even more importantly, Miami had 16 offensive rebounds, which led to pivotal plays like Omier’s and-one to put his team up 24-10 with 7:12 remaining in the first half.
Losing the rebounding battle is a negative under almost any circumstance. But Duke’s strength is how big its lineup is with the likes of Kyle Filipowski, Dereck Lively II and Ryan Young. Allowing Miami’s small-ball lineup to have the kind of success it did is especially problematic considering the size advantage and is an aspect of the game the Blue Devils need to win to have success.
The sourest part of the way the Blue Devils lost may have been the fact that they were just the beneficiaries of a sizable home-court advantage over the weekend. The Miami fans looked just as motivated as the players to avenge the loss to Duke earlier in the season, and it is something Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga highlighted.
“That fuels us. The players feed off of that electricity and they are able to sustain effort longer because of the environment,” Larrañaga said of Monday’s crowd at the Watsco Center.
The unfortunate thing for Duke is that raucous road crowds have greeted them all season, and to this date, the Blue Devils still have not figured out how to deal with them. Their five ACC losses have all come on the road, with one of the starkest examples in how different they play at home compared to in enemy territory being their two games against Miami.
Duke eked out a gritty 68-66 win against the Hurricanes in Cameron Indoor Stadium two weeks prior to Monday, and yet it allowed Miami to win by 22 points this time. As for the reason why? It’s not something Scheyer has been able to put his finger on just yet.
“I don’t know. For us, it’s end of the day, you’re playing ball no matter where you are,” Scheyer said about the team’s ACC road struggles.
The optimistic outlook on this is that postseason tournaments are all neutral-site games. But Duke has played its best basketball of the season within the confines of Cameron Indoor, which will not be of any help once the regular season ends.
When the Blue Devils have been at their best, Duke guards Jeremy Roach and Tyrese Proctor have been a lethal one-two punch. Wake Forest and North Carolina both felt the wrath of this duo working in harmony, but Miami had the better backcourt play Monday. Hurricane guards Wooga Poplar, Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller combined for 41 points on a 16-of-32 clip while Roach and Proctor were just 4-of-13 for 13 points.
Even more detrimental to Duke’s winning effort was its 21 turnovers, which Roach and Proctor contributed to with five each. That was a career-high for Proctor and for Roach, something the junior had only done twice in his three years at Duke.
“They just played harder than us,” Roach said of the game. “We were playing timid, scared.”
The Blue Devils get four days off before they head to Charlottesville, Va., where they will have a chance to flip the script on their season once again with a matchup against head coach Tony Bennett and No. 8 Virginia.
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Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.