In the first half of Duke's 79-57 win over Georgia Tech, it was as if the Blue Devils were mentally still in South Bend. Instead of Pat Connaughton and Garrick Sherman, Duke saw Daniel Miller, a solid but not great 6-11 center have his way inside - along with a bunch of other Yellow Jackets.
Miller was 7-11 for 14 points - notice the lack of foul shots - and pulled down eight rebounds. Trae Golden and Marcus Georges-Hunt also got loose a fair amount.
Tech shot 49.1% for the game but was over 50% in the first, and too many of those were very close to the rim.
After the Notre Dame loss, we thought there might be some lineup changes. And there were, as Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson both moved back into the lineup, and both played well.
Sulaimon finished with 11 points, five boards and three assists, while Jefferson had 10 rebounds (ESPN says eight, but we saw at least nine on the scoreboard, so ESPN is off).
Quinn Cook was 4-10 and added five assists. For the season, he has an assist/turnover ratio of 3.07 (incidentally, Pitt's James Robinson leads the nation at 5.00, although much of it came against inferior competition. Still, the only game where he had more than one turnover was against Savannah State in Pitt's opener).
And for the second straight game, Jabari Parker was off his feed. The freshman phenom was just 4-12 but still played better than he did at Notre Dame.
In his last two games, Parker is 6-22 and 1-7 from three point range. In his last three, including Elon now, he is 11-35.
That's wildly at odds with his earlier performances, but he doesn't seem worried and neither does Coach K.
After the game Parker said "I'm human, too. I'm going to make mistakes. We won the game, so that's all. My time will come again, hopefully, but if it doesn't, as long as we win, as long as I can do other things to help the team, that's my focus."
For his part, Coach K said "[Parker's] learning a whole bunch of things, and as he's doing that, we're still Duke, and everyone expects us to be perfect and win everything and look great while we're doing it. It doesn't happen that way. We're a work in progress, and I want to coach them that way without putting extra pressure on them."
Also a reasonable position. Who knows why he's off? We certainly don't. We do know, though, that what we've seen so far isn't fairy dust. Parker is truly gifted. Two bad games, in the big scheme of things, are meaningless. It's been largely forgotten now, but at one point, LeBron James was getting a lot of heat for not being assertive enough in the closing minutes of games. He was a poor leader, remember? No Michael Jordan, no desire for the clutch.
Seems stupid now. So will worries about a Parker slump. Whatever it is will resolve itself. As Duke fans, we should let him be a 19-year-old college student without obsessing over every sign of imperfection.
Parker was off, but Rodney Hood, for the second straight game, was spectacular.
Hood shot 75% from the floor (8-12), 5-7 from behind the line, 6-6 for free throws, pulled down six rebounds and passed out three assists.
In fact, when Duke had a lead late in the second, it was Hood who put the game firmly out of reach with a pair of back-to-back three pointers.
It was, though, a tale of two halves. Duke mostly played down to the opposition early; after halftime, after Mike Krzyzewski did whatever locker room alchemy he so often does at halftime, a different team came out.
Duke made scoring much, much more difficult for the Yellow Jackets. In fact, between the 12:12 mark and the 6:12 mark, Tech only got two baskets, both from Daniel Miller.
In fairness to the guys who were trying to defend the 6-11 Miller one-on-one, none of them, other than Marshall Plumlee, were in his class physically and once it became a one-on-one encounter, the result was pretty much preordained.
The key here is that it should never have become a one-on-one encounter. Duke is still working on communication and switches, which likely has a lot to do with why several teams, not least of all Vermont, had their way inside against the Blue Devils.
Whatever. Duke did turn it up in the second half and won by 22 with a subpar effort from the team's best player, Parker. When this team hits on all cylinders, and plays defense with heart, it's very difficult to beat.
And with meatgrinder defenses in the next two games (Clemson on the road and Virginia at home), Duke will need to play well to win.