If you had seven in the office pool, then you can collect your winnings.
After missing seven games recuperating from back surgery, Mike Krzyzewski returned to the sidelines Saturday, helping Duke to a 72-64 win over Pittsburgh. The win is Duke’s third straight and moves the Blue Devils to 6-4 in the ACC (18-5 overall) and puts them two games over .500 in conference play for the first time this season.
The win actually continues a curious trend, the third consecutive Saturday in which Duke has followed a desultory first half with a dominant second half.
Pitt came into Cameron riding a seven-game losing streak, including a 55-point home loss to Louisville. But their sole ACC win was against Virginia and they lost to North Carolina last Tuesday only when a last-second shot came up empty.
Jekyll and Hyde. And the Panthers were in full Jekyll mode Saturday, a tenacious zone swallowing Duke inside, while stars Michael Young and Jamel Artis controlled their offense.
Pitt starts five players—including four seniors--between 6-6 and 6-9 and they play a zone that maximizes that length.
“They’re tough to attack because of their length, “Grayson Allen says. “When you play a team where everyone is about 6-7, 6-8, it’s tough because they can close out and get to shooters and contest shots better than other teams. When you get to the basket they can contest you there, they can contest you on the perimeter. That’s why we struggled so much on offense early. We did a better job of attacking the zone in the second half, moving the ball better and putting some pressure on them.”
Matt Jones suffered an undisclosed injury in practice earlier this week and played a modest 14 minutes off the bench. Frank Jackson got the nod. Harry Giles played seven minutes in the first half, Marques Bolden had a cameo. Neither got off the bench after intermission.
Allen and Luke Kennard played the entire game for Duke, as did Artis for Pitt.
The first half had all the charm of a tax audit. Or a slog through the mud. Or a trip to the dentist. Pick your metaphor.
And, yes some of my friends are auditors and dentists. No letters, please.
Amile Jefferson scored six points in the first five minutes and Duke led 9-4.
But any thoughts of a blowout dissipated when the visitors went on a 9-2 run.
Well, run isn’t exactly the word. Pitt had two shot clock violations in the first half. But that patience paid off a lot, especially when they got the ball inside to the 6-9, 235-pound Young, who notched a dozen first-half points.
A Jefferson layup put Duke up 28-22 with 4:55 left in the half. Duke missed their final seven shots before intermission and Pitt tied it at 28 going into intermission.
Duke shot 3 of 13 from beyond the arc in the first half.
Mike Krzyzewski’s reaction?
“We had some really good looks but that ball was just in and out a couple of times. We just kept telling our guys to keep shooting. Don’t worry about the last one, just put your effort in the next one.”
That wasn’t the only problem. Flummoxed by Pitt’s defense, Duke shot one foul shot in the first half, while freshmen starters Jackson and Jayson Tatum combined for 1 for 7 from the field.
Tatum settled down early in the second half, scoring Duke’s first eight points. But Duke got stuck on 33 for almost three minutes and fell behind 37-33, with 16:10 left.
I suspect the upset alerts started about then.
But Duke listened to Krzyzewski’s entreaties to keep shooting and they started falling. Jackson hit a 3 to put Duke up 45-43 with 8:32 left and another with 5:55 left to put Duke up 55-49.
Much of the rest of the stretch was the Grayson Allen show. Held to three points over the first 32 minutes, Allen went on a tear, hitting four 3-pointers and a layup in a span of less than seven minutes.
Krzyzewski’s response to the explosion?
“One, we told him to keep shooting. Two, I believe in him. There was one thing later that we did against their zone that was going to get him an open shot if we did it right. It took us two exchanges to get it right and then we got it right. Got to love him, he’s a hell of a player.”
But Pitt kept coming back, Young and Artis combining for 24 second-half points.
However, Duke held Pitt to 2-14 from beyond the arc. Pitt coach Kevin Stallings lamented Duke’s long-range bombs down the stretch.
“They made shots and we couldn’t. Our twos couldn’t beat their threes.”
The key defensive stop came with just under two minutes left and Duke up 63-59. Sheldon Jeter got the ball inside, with a clear lane to the basket.
Jefferson tells what happened next.
“Just trying to make a play. I saw that he was wide open and I just ran down there and tried to make a play. Luckily, I got my hands on the ball without fouling and we got the rebound. That was a huge rebound [Tatum}. That was bigger than the block.”
Duke closed it out from the line, six for six in the final 40 seconds.
“They’re older,” Jefferson said of Pitt. “So, for our guys to weather the storm and maintain our poise, it was a game when our guys got better and we got better collectively.”
Allen led Duke with 21 points, 18 in the second half. He was joined in double figures by Jefferson (15), Tatum (12) and Luke Kennard (10).
Jefferson added nine rebounds and five blocks, Allen six assists.
Duke hit 8 of 15 from beyond the arc in the second half and shot 10-13 from the line over the same span, Jefferson making two big freebies down the stretch.
Duke had 19 assists on 25 made field goals and turned it over only eight times.
Young and Artis led Pitt with 24 and 17 points respectively.
The win was Krzyzewski’s 500th at Cameron.
Krzyzewski said he has been at practice for the last couple of weeks but assumed more control this week. He says his only problem is stamina.
He looked like a kid on Christmas morning. Happy to be back and I don’t think you can fake that.
He also said that the whole locker room stuff was not punishment but an exercise in team building. Talked about West Point.
He said that he hopes Jones will be okay next week.
Jefferson says he’s still not 100 percent and likely won’t be.
“I’m out there fighting. It will get better when I rest but I’m not going to get much rest. I’m in pain but I’m going to be out there fighting. I’ll be alright.”
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