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Duke Dodges a Bullet

"Those guys weren't messing around, Andre!" "I know, kid. I know."

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

I hope they got it out of their system.

That's about as much enthusiasm as I can muster for Duke's 91-90 win over Vermont Sunday night.

Rarely has a win felt so much like a loss. Mike Krzyzewski certainly feels that way, calling Duke's performance "unacceptable."

Vermont starts five seniors and they were predicted to win the America East title this season. But the Catamounts came into Cameron 1-4, three of those losses by double digits.

It looked easy on paper and it started out that way. Duke jumped on top 5-2, fell behind 8-7 and used a 20-9 run to build a 27-17 lead at the midpoint of the first half.

Duke had five 3-pointers at this point and clearly thought they would have no trouble winning a shoot-out against a team that came into the game shooting under 40 percent from the field.

But Jabari Parker said there were signs of trouble early. "Little mistakes ended up biting us in the butt in the second half. We kept on letting those bad habits get to us. Just talking, communicating, being together, being there. We didn't show up. You can't just choose to turn it on when you want to."

Vermont didn't panic, didn't get out of their comfort zone. Vermont coach John Becker said "We hung in there, hung around and took it one possession at a time. They are aggressive defensively and we knew they would force us into one-on-one situations. We just wanted our guys to be aggressive and make plays. We didn't really run any plays, just motion and guys did a really good job of finding each other."

Did they ever. Vermont kept making that fourth or fifth pass, a pretty good strategy against a Duke defense that seemed to lose interest by about the third pass.

"Guys weren't talking for the first 30 minutes," Quinn Cook said. "We were all playing defense by ourselves. Give a great team like that confidence it's like the ocean out there."

Duke's offense was sufficiently effective that the lead stayed in the 10 to 15 point range much of the first half. Duke had the ball up by 10 with the shot clock off when Rodney Hood missed a 3. Fighting for the rebound, Parker was called for a foul with one second left in the half.

Two Brian Voelkel foul shots made it 51-43 at the half.

It seemed like a comfortable lead. But there were some disturbing signs. Vermont made two-thirds of their shots (16-24) from the field and turned it over only four times. Duke built its lead on 8-17 shooting from beyond the arc, a shaky foundation for a team not defending very well.

Five minutes into the second half Parked turned a steal into an emphatic dunk and a 61-49 lead.

Rout on?

This is the point where Krzyzewski said his team showed its immaturity. "Right after that was our worst. 'I got enough. Now we've got it. Now we're good.' No we're not good. There's 15 minutes left in the game and they're shooting over 60 percent from the field. We just got one steal."

Vermont went on a 10-0 run in less than four minutes. The lead shrunk and finally disappeared altogether. Vermont tied it at 71 and took the lead at 74-73, then 78-75. Vermont went to a 2-3 zone-Becker says he hates to use it-and Duke stopped making shots from outside.

Duke made some shockingly dumb plays down the stretch. With Duke trailing 78-77, Tyler Thornton fouled Candon Rusin on a 3-point shot. Vermont had about a second left on the shot clock and Rusin was attempting a desperation heave from 25 feet.

Rusin partially bailed out Duke by missing two of his three shots.

Parker tied it at 81 on a dunk and put Duke up 83-81 with a putback. Vermont tied it but Cook put Duke up 86-83 with Duke's second and final 3-pointer of the second half.

Two Rasheed Sulaimon foul shots made it 88-84 with 40 seconds left and Cook kept the lead at four with two more fouls shots, with only 17 seconds left.

But Sulaimon inexplicably fouled Rusin as Rusin hit a 3-pointer. This time Rusin didn't bail out Duke from the line, the four-point play tying the game, with 10.5 seconds left.

Duke got the ball to Hood, Hood got to the line and made the second of two foul shots, with five seconds left. Cook harassed Vermont's Sando Carissimo enough that the clock had long expired when Vermont took a shot.

Which they made. Of course.

Following the game, Krzyzewski wasn't in the mood to discuss Xs and Os. "They were terrific and we were awful. Them being terrific made us look worse. As a unit, that's all of us. This was an unacceptable performance and we were lucky to win. . . . We played like a team that thought we would just show up and win. That's how you get beat. . . . We played real young and we are. We as a staff we need to do better. This is all of our responsibilities. In our program, we believe in collective responsibility. We were awful. What are we going to try to do to correct that? We are going to try not to be awful."

Krzyzewski agreed that Duke's defensive communication was bad but argued that it was part of a larger flaw.

"We didn't talk because we didn't think we needed to. I don't think we respected them. When you're playing this game, you should respect every opponent. One, they're worthy of respect. . . . But more than that, you should always respect the game. If you respect the game and you give your effort, preparation, fight, night in and night out, then you can look at anybody, no matter what happens and say I respected the game, I gave my best. We can't say that tonight and that's upsetting to me because there aren't many times that I've said that about one of my teams."

Lesson learned? Remains to be seen. Cook says yes. "Hopefully these two games [also East Carolina] are a wake-up call. No matter who you play, you have to fight and stay together. We'll get it together. We finally found a way. We have to get better. It has to transfer from practices to the game. We have to have five guys together, talking, energy, effort, fight. We'll get it done."

Notes.

Duke's offensive stats were pretty impressive. The Blue Devils shot 49.1 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from the line, with 16 assists and only seven turnovers. Duke outrebounded Vermont 30-24. Parker had 26 points and nine rebounds, Hood 22 points and seven rebounds, Cook 14 points and eight assists. Andre Dawkins added 16 points off the bench.

But, that defense. Duke allowed Vermont to shoot an astonishing 64.8 percent from the field and forced only six turnovers. Twenty-one of Vermont's 35 field goals were assisted, tribute to their ability to make the extra pass. They deserve all the credit in the world for making open shots-Krzyzewski called their performance "beautiful"-but they sure had a lot of open shots.

So some work to turn awful into not awful.

Dawkins' 16 points give him exactly 800 for his career.