Devils pay road call on new ACC foe: Notre Dame

Jan. 03, 2014 @ 06:42 PM

Heading north to an unfamiliar ACC locale might be unusual for Duke’s most experienced players like Quinn Cook, Tyler Thornton or Josh Hairston.

But another member of the No. 7 Blue Devils’ starting lineup will be as new to the ACC as Notre Dame is to the league when the Blue Devils play the Irish in snowy South Bend, Ind., today (4 p.m., WRAL).

“It’s going to be exciting,” Duke redshirt sophomore Rodney Hood said. “They are new to the ACC. I’m new to the ACC. I’m just looking to start off on a good note with my team. We are excited to do up there play them.”

Hood is in his first season playing for Duke (11-2) after NCAA rules dictated he sit out last season following his transfer from Mississippi State. The NCAA doesn’t allow players sitting out to travel with the team for road games, which means Hood doesn’t have much first-hand experience with how the Blue Devils are treated in foreign arenas.

His one season at Mississippi State included trips to Mississippi’s Tad Smith Coliseum and Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena. So Hood said he knows what it’s like to have an entire arena against him.

Still, if Duke happens to lose a road game, court-stormings are a certainty.

And ACC additions Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh will be new — for him and his Duke teammates — as they travel to all three locales between now and Feb. 1.

“It’s different,” Hood said. “I’m excited to see what those arenas are like because I used to watch them play in the Big East when they had their rivalry games. It was jam-packed in there. It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be test of our character. Can we go in there and get a win?”

That’s all the matters for Duke, which has goals of winning the ACC regular-season and tournament championships each season. After winning the ACC Tournament in 2011, the Blue Devils have failed to do either over the last two seasons.

Getting a road win at Notre Dame, a perennial NCAA Tournament team, would mark a great start toward reaching that goal.

“I think its going to start with our preparation,” Duke sophomore Amile Jefferson said. “That’s where we have to lay our foundation. Going on the road, it’s going to be a hostile environment. We haven’t played a true road game. So for us it’s going to be about maturity. For us to stay together and really talk, constantly talk. It’s going to be really loud in there.”

Duke has plenty of weapons on offense to bring it an ACC title. The Blue Devils lead the ACC in scoring (85.2 points per game) while shooting a league-best 50.2 percent from the field. Jabari Parker (21.4) and Hood (17.2) are the top scoring pair of teammates in the ACC.

Playing on the road, though, could impact the team’s improving defense. After a tough start to the season, Duke has allowed just 63 points per game over its last seven outings.

Better communication is a big reason for Duke being harder to score against.

“That’s the key,” Hood said. “That’s what we’ve been working on in practice is talking. We’re going to have to do that more than ever. We played on neutral sites but it’s still not the same as a road game. We have got to be more together and be connected on both ends of the court. It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be a good test for us to see where we are at. Our goal is to win the ACC. This is our first step.”

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is expected to be back with the team as it plays its first ACC game. Krzyzewski spent Thursday and Friday in Chicago for funeral services for his older brother, William, who died last week.

Duke’s assistant coaches ran practice in Durham on Thursday.

Hood said the Blue Devils don’t want to give Krzyzewski any reason to doubt the can handle things when he needs to be away for something as important as his only brother’s funeral.

“That’s our main captain and him not being there obviously takes a toll on our team,” Hood said “I had to talk to the young guys and tell them that we had to work even harder. We have got to make coach comfortable that we are prepared once we go up there to Indiana. That’s the biggest thing.”