Following Duke's tougher-than-it-sounds 76-60 win over Virginia, Mike Krzyzewski addressed the gap between perception and reality. The combination of Duke's 2010 NCAA title, the return of Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith and the addition of Kyrie Irving proved irresistible to the media and the fans. Duke was an unstoppable behemoth.
Krzyzewski says Duke was well on its way to that status when Irving went down with the by-now-infamous-big-toe-injury. Suddenly, Duke was no longer the 800-pound gorilla. Krzyzewski said the same thing after every game. Duke was a good team, not a great team, a team that needed time and work to get better. "We can't play for what everyone predicted," he said today. "It can't be that team."
Many Duke fans didn't believe him, not until Wednesday's loss to Florida State and not even then. Many predicted some sort of dramatic shake-up, something that would show the depth of Krzyzewski's anger over Duke's performance. Tyler Thornton might start, Josh Hairston might start, both might start, Duke might play zone but something was up.
None of that happened. The starting lineup was Singler, Smith, Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee and Andre Dawkins. Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.
Krzyzewski says his team shared some of those illusions. He compared his team to a child who doesn't believe the stove is hot until they touch it and get burned. "No matter how much you tell them they think 'eh, we're winning, we don't have to do that.' "
So, maybe Duke just got beat by a team that played better than it did, with a little complacency thrown in. For twenty-five minutes or so, it looked like the Cavaliers might be able to duplicate the Florida State recipe. Harass the dickens out of Smith and Singler, shut down Duke's post presence and hope Duke misses enough 3s.
Much of the first half was two teams drowning in a pool of offensive ineptness. Virginia shot 37.9% from the field in the first half and added a woeful 4-9 from the line. Only two players had more than two points.
Yet, Virginia led 31-25 because Duke was even worse. Try 1-12 on 3s, three assists and nine turnovers. Duke had scoring droughts of 3:09, 6:08 and 1:56.
Only Nolan Smith's 13 points kept Duke in contact.
Duke closed to three early in the second half, then fell back again, trailing 42-33, with 16:14 left. They came back with a basketball truism, digging down on defense and using that defense to jump-start their struggling offense.
Some of that came from two unlikely sources, Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry, both largely MIA in the first half. Krzyzewski said Dawkins played his best defense of the season in the second half. Dawkins said good defense "led to easy buckets. Getting easy buckets really makes the basket look bigger from the outside."
Curry converted an offensive rebound to make it 42-37. Smith muscled for a lay-up. Curry made three foul shots to make it 44-42. Dawkins made an old-fashioned 3-point play to give Duke a 45-44 lead, Smith got a steal and dunk, Curry picked K.T. Harrell's pocket and Smith hit a jumper. Before a Sammy Zeglinski jumper stopped the bleeding, Duke had gone on a 16-2 blitz over a period of just over five minutes.
Virginia hung around a bit longer. It was 54-52 Duke with nine minutes left. But without post star Mike Scott, out for the season following ankle surgery, Virginia just doesn't have much margin for error.
Their coach Tony Bennett said that his team just ran out of gas. "That last 10 minutes, we fractured defensively. We panicked a little. They upped their pressure. That's what they do. It got away from us quickly."
Bennett called Andre Dawkins' 3s that made the score 54-49, 59-52 and 62-52 "daggers. He has a beautiful stroke. He gets his feet set. They space so well, especially with Kyle at the 4."
Smith ended the game with 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists and helped shut down Virginia's Mustapha Farrakhan down the stretch. Farrakhan scored 15 points in the first 21 minutes and ended with 15 points. Dawkins and Curry finished with 14 and 7 points respectively, all but two (Dawkins) coming in the second half. Duke had trouble getting the ball to Singler, who had a workmanlike 13 points and four rebounds.
Then there was Mason Plumlee. The big guy again struggled to finish inside. But he also controlled the glass, grabbing a career-high 16 rebounds, giving him 54 over the last five games. Krzyzewski praised his defense, saying Mason "orchestrated our defense" down the stretch, enabling Duke to close on 3-point shooters without giving up anything cheap inside.
Still, Duke's struggles for much of the game with a mediocre Virginia team support Krzyzewski's view that this team is still developing and some patience might be in order. Smith hopes the message has sunk in. "We're a different team. We have to know that going into games -- we're not going to walk onto the court and beat anybody. This conference is too good for that."
Nolan Smith has scored 197 points over his last eight games, an average of 24.6 points per game.
Miles Plumlee played only four minutes against Virginia. Krzyzewski said that was due to a combination of his brother's effectiveness and Virginia going small.
Duke was 13-14 from the line in the second half, with Smith having the miss. Curry was 5-5.
Kyle Singler's 3-pointer ties him with Shane Battier for sixth place on the Duke list. They have 246. Singler's 13 points gives him 111 games in double figures, tying him with Mike Gminski for sixth in school history.
Singler has 2,068 career points, still tenth place. But with Gene Banks and Jason Williams at 2,079 and Jon Scheyer at 2,077, Singler is poised to move up to seventh next week.