When things are going wrong, get back to the basics.
Okay, it’s a cliche, but cliches become cliches because they have an element of truth.
And things certainly are going wrong for the unranked, 5-4 Duke Blue Devils, going into Louisville on a two-game losing streak.
Freshman guard D.J. Steward Zoomed with the media Thursday afternoon to discuss his team, his game and Duke’s next opponent.
And much of that discussion focused on getting back to basics.
“We’ve got to be tougher as a team. We’ve been working on toughness a lot these last couple days – pretty much the whole week. We’ve just got to go out there and execute the game plan. The coaches lay down what they want us to do, but we’ve just got to go out there, execute the game plan and just follow what he says. We’ve got to trust his game plan and we’ve got to trust each other as well. If we go out there and trust each other, rebound and play tough, we’ll win these games.”
Hopefully part of that game plan involves getting and hitting open shots. Duke is down to 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. Only the 2019 team-30.9 percent-has shot worse in Duke annals and that team had Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. This team does not.
Steward came into his freshman season with the reputation as an elite downtown bomber and that looked like an accurate description after he went 3-5 against Illinois and 3-4 against Notre Dame on 3-pointers.
But Steward has been on a cold streak since that game in South Bend. He’s made only six-of-28 3-pointers since then. That’s 28.6 percent. Steward has shot 14-for-23 (61 percent ) on 2s and 9-for-12 (75 percent) from the line during that span. So, it’s not like he’s forgotten how to shoot.
“There’s going to be slumps,” Steward said today. “I know there’s going to be slumps, so I’ve just got to work out of them and then look at my shots, watch a lot of film, stop rushing my shots. I’ve just got to take my time and then feed off of my teammates – make the right plays and then play my hardest at all times. I’m not worried about making shots.”
Shooting wasn’t Duke’s only shortcoming against Pittsburgh Tuesday night. We all remember the narrative of Duke making more foul shots than the other team attempts.
Not so much anymore. Pittsburgh shot 37 foul shots, against Duke’s 19 and it wasn’t because Duke was fouling late in an attempt to stop the clock; it was a one-possession game in the final minute.
What sent the Panthers to the foul line so much?
“First off, it goes from our perimeter. We can’t let them get into the lane and make plays. We’ve got to stand our ground. We can’t be jumping in the air. Louisville, of course is going to pump fake when they get into the lane with their great guards. We’ve got to to stay down and wall up.”
Steward added that keeping Louisville’s star guard Carlik Jones out of the lane will be a key to coming back from Louisville with a win.
As well as learning to play with Jalen Johnson’s enormous strengths.
“He’s very special. It’s great having him back. We saw in the game that he can do pretty much everything on the court. He had the most assists and we’ve got to feed off of that. We’ve got to share the ball together like he does and we’ve got to rebound like he does and have a toughness. We’ve got to feed off of his energy and then play off of him.”
Louisville also has lost two straight and Steward says the game may come down to intangibles.
A win is “very important. . . The more hungry team is going to win. Coach K says that all the time . . . but this game we’ve got to be serious about this, strictly business, no goofing off, strictly business.”
Steward says the losing streak and resulting criticism has brought Duke closer together.
“We’re going to lock in as a team and then just come together as one. It’s us against the world right now.”