ON THE ROAD AGAIN
From the depths of two road ACC road losses and nearly falling out of the Associated Press Top 25, Duke has put together consecutive performances of its best basketball.
Now, the Blue Devils hope to continue that play and clear a hurdle they’ve yet to clear this season.
No. 18 Duke travels to play at Miami tonight (7:30 p.m., ESPN2) looking for its first win on an opponent’s home court this season.
While the Blue Devils have posted neutral court wins over Alabama and UCLA at New York’s Madison Square Garden and a win over Elon at the Greensboro Coliseum, they lost 79-77 at Notre Dame and 72-59 at Clemson.
Duke has changed its playing style since those two losses, though, and that move led to a 69-65 win over Virginia on Jan. 13 and a 95-60 romp over N.C. State on Saturday.
“We played really hard on Monday, collectively, and our energies were combined these last two games and it started with defense,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
That cohesiveness will be even more important at Miami tonight as the Blue Devils seek their first road win. The last time Duke visited BankUnited Center, almost exactly a year ago on Jan. 23, 2013, it suffered an embarrassing 90-63 defeat.
That win was part of Miami’s run to not only the ACC regular-season championship, but the ACC Tournament title as well.
Having lost all five starters from last season, the Hurricanes (10-7, 2-3) haven’t been as successful so far this season.
But having already dropped road games to two unranked ACC foes this season, the Blue Devils know they aren’t in position to take anyone for granted.
“We’ve played hard,” Krzyzewski said. “Sometimes you just get beat. We are a developing basketball team. I thought we played better and harder and more together this (past) week. We were fortunate we got two wins.”
Part of the improvement has come from the use of a deeper bench. Starting with the Virginia game, freshman Matt Jones was inserted into the starting lineup along with point guard Quinn Cook and forwards Amile Jefferson, Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker.
Krzyzewski has routinely subbed in five other players at a time, using seniors Andre Dawkins, Tyler Thornton plus sophomores Rasheed Sulaimon and Marshall Plumlee in that second group.
Freshman Semi Ojeleye has also seen limited play.
The result has been increased intensity on defense and rebounding, two areas where Duke was outplayed in the losses to Notre Dame and Clemson.
“Our bench has a lot of confidence right now,” Dawkins said. “You’ve got Rasheed, myself, Marshall, Josh, guys coming in a playing hard and doing whatever we need to do, whether it’s getting rebounds or getting stops. Our bench is playing really well right now. We’ve just got to keep going.”
Tonight’s game with Miami will be a clash of playing styles. With his revamped roster, Miami coach Jim Larranaga is using more zone defenses and using a slower tempo.
While Duke leads the ACC in scoring at 82.6 points per game, Miami is scoring just 62.4 points per game.
The Hurricanes are only allowing 58.5 points per game and teams have made just 39 percent of their shots.
“The ultimate goal is whatever we have to do to stop our opponent,” Larranaga said. “It seems like our defense is better in a zone because our perimeter guys are guarding perimeter players while our big guys are guarding interior players and they are close to the basket and in position to defensive rebound.”