The unranked Duke Blue Devils fell to Pittsburgh Tuesday night 79-73.
No, I never thought I’d be writing those words.
But that’s where Duke basketball is right now, a mid-level ACC team struggling to put its parts together into something resembling Duke basketball.
The loss was Duke’s second straight, dropping them to 3-2 in the ACC, 5-4 overall, with dangerous Louisville looming Saturday afternoon.
Pitt moved to 4-1 and 8-2.
Yes, Pitt looked really good, especially sophomore forward Justin Champagnie, who burnished his ACC Player of the Year credentials with a stunning 31-point, 14-rebound performance.
But Duke has had a habit of making teams look good. Are teams raising their games against a wounded giant? Or is Duke just not good enough to close the deal?
And the deal was there to be closed.
Duke again fell behind early, 8-0 out of the blocks.
“The most disappointing thing for me was our start,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “We had practiced so hard and tried different things and for me to have to call a timeout after two minutes is not acceptable.”
One of those different things was a zone defense, a defense that Duke stuck with through thick and thin.
“We worked on the zone all week, Wendell Moore II said. “For the most part we are doing a pretty good job of it. We need to talk more and be a little more active.”
Krzyzewski called the zone good but not great and indicated that it would be a part of Duke’s arsenal moving forward.
“We’re going to need some zone going forward because we’re not a big team, we’re not a physical team.”
Krzyzewski cited dribble penetration as something Duke needs to work on out of the zone.
Still, Duke eliminated that eight-point deficit pretty quickly, taking a 14-13 lead and trading baskets with Pitt for nine minutes.
Much of that run was fueled by Moore (15 points) and Jalen Johnson, neither of whom started. Johnson was outstanding, a career-high 24 points, with 15 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and four blocks.
Pitt’s decisive run spanned the last four minutes of the first half and the first four of the second half.
Leading 31-29 after a Matt Hurt 3-pointer, Duke missed six straight shots, with three turnovers thrown into the mix. Pitt upped their lead to 43-31 before Moore hit a 3 to send Duke into the locker room down 43-34.
It got worse before it got better. Pitt’s biggest lead was 55-40, with 16:32 left. That tabulates to a 26-9 run.
“We’ve just got to execute,” Moore said. “We didn’t get the shots we needed, we didn’t get the stops we needed.”
Krzyzewski said that Duke was out-toughed at critical moments.
But Duke climbed back into the game. Johnson scored eight points in barely two minutes and the deficit was down to eight, 56-48.
Then Hurt cranked it up after a foul-plagued first half. A Hurt 3-pointer made it 68-66, with 5:40 left, an eternity.
Hurt scored nine of his 13 points after intermission.
But Duke couldn’t get over the hump. Twice in the final two minutes Duke scored to cut the deficit to two points and both times allowed layups. Duke missed its final four shots and that was a wrap.
“They executed right at the end of [shot] clocks,” Krzyzewski said of the victors. “ And they got to the line. They shot 37 free throws [24 makes]. We’ve got to do a better job of blocking out. . . For them to get 37 free throws, you’re not going to win many games that way.”
Moore indicated that poor defensive rebounding led the Pitt getting to the line. But Pitt grabbed eight offensive rebounds, while Duke grabbed 15 and only shot 19 foul shots.
So, it was more than that.
And Duke only made 11 of those foul shots, a woeful 58 percent. Woeful also describes Duke’s 8-for-28 (28.6 percent) shooting from beyond the arc.
How does Duke turn the corner?
“For us to figure out a team there has to be some level of consistency of performance by all the kids so you can define roles,” Krzyzewski said. “They’ve got to get tougher. This is such a young team. It’s as young a team as we’ve had in a long time. We can’t afford to be down. We have to respond.”
Duke outrebounded Pitt 43-42 and had two fewer turnovers, 11 to 13. But that 13-point gap at the foul line was a chasm Duke couldn’t jump over.
With the win Jeff Capel became the first former Krzyzewski player to notch a win against his former head coach.
Johnson said he was 100 percent healthy.
“A lot of treatment, a lot of rehab, a lot of work out into it. I’m glad to finally get back.”
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- PODCAST: Justin Champagnie is stealing the show
- Pitt mailbag: How has perception of Panthers’ ceiling changed since start of season?
- Duke’s Coach K talks about the loss to Pittsburgh
- Blue Devils Stumble at Pitt, 79-73
- BOX SCORE (PDF)
- POSTGAME NOTES (PDF)
- COACH K QUOTES (PDF)
- DUKE PLAYER QUOTES (PDF)
- Postgame Reaction from Win over Duke: “Pitt is Back”
- Justin Champagnie’s 31 Points Power Pitt Past Duke, 79-73
- Pitt Postgame Show: Justin Champagnie Takes Over, Leading Pitt to Statement Win Over Duke
Player Of The Game vs. Pitt
This poll is closed