Duke leaves cozy confines, hits road for ACC, beyond
The energy and passion Duke’s fans give the home team at Cameron Indoor Stadium have been well documented.
After going 17-0 in home games this season to run their home court winning streak to 33, the Blue Devils current task is to bring the same level to their play away from their famed home arena.
Last Saturday’s 93-81 win over rival North Carolina marked the final time the No. 7 Blue Devils (24-7) will play at Cameron this season. Duke opens ACC Tournament play Friday (9:30 p.m., WRAL) in the quarterfinals at Greensboro Coliseum. The NCAA Tournament is next.
For a team that’s gone 7-7 in games not played in Durham this season, questions remain about its ability to match its level of play away from home.
“When we are playing here, we have our fans,” Duke sophomore forward Amile Jefferson said. “Cameron is amazing. It’s electric. It’s rocking. We definitely get another verve playing in this gym. We just have to remember when we are on the road that those fans are still with us. We are still playing for the same goals. We are still playing for each other and (we) have to be even more together when we are on the road.”
It’s not that Duke has played horribly away from Cameron this season. The Blue Devils posted an impressive 80-63 win over UCLA at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19. Duke won 80-65 on Jan. 27 at Pittsburgh, historically a tough team to beat on its home court.
In other games away from home, Duke has built leads only to see them slip away in the second half. That happened in a 79-77 loss at Notre Dame, a 72-59 loss at Clemson, a 74-66 loss at North Carolina and last week’s 82-72 loss at Wake Forest.
“I think the main thing is we have to be able to stay focused, to stay locked in, to play through being tired,” Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel said. “At times when we are tired, to find the different emotion to push us through being tired.”
Doing that, of course, is easier at home where a raucous crowd cheers every basket and every defensive stop the Blue Devils make.
“Our crowd all year has been incredible,” Capel said. “We’ve needed them and they have come through for us. If you look at all the games, with the exception of Syracuse up there, every game we’ve had at least at two-possession lead usually late in the second half. It’s at those times that we have to be even more focused. You have to be even more disciplined to follow our principles, to follow our game plan and not all fatigue to creep in.”
Unlike last year’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight team, which took its lead from senior starters Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, Jefferson said this year’s Blue Devils need anger to drive them.
“We have to be angry and think about those losses that we took,” Jefferson said. “When we didn’t block out hard, we didn’t protect our paint and we didn’t fight for each other. Let those be a reminders to us that when we do those things, we’re a really, really good basketball team.”
Sophomore forward Rodney Hood, one of Duke’s three captains this season, admits the Blue Devils have gone through growing pains. He and freshman Jabari Parker, Duke’s two leading scorers, are playing their first seasons for the Blue Devils.
Hood said the one-and-done nature of the postseason will drive the team to sharpen its focus.
“The good thing about it is if we lose, we’re out,” Hood said. “It’s not really a good thing but it forces you to play at a high level. You can’t relax and things like that.”
Capel said the coaching staff has learned — obviously through some trial and error — that this year’s team needs hard-edged coaching. That’s particularly true away from Cameron when it has to create its own energy.
“I agree with Amile that we do have to play angry,” Capel said. “We have shown at times that we can be as good as anyone. We’ve also shown that we can lose to anyone. When we have let up…Even us as a coaching staff, I’m not going to say we’ve let up. But when we haven’t been jerks, that’s when our guys seem to let up. It’s not what you want but if we have to coach that way we are going to do it.”