Blue Devils learn from struggle at Boston College
Around the country, top college basketball teams fall seemingly every day and the Top 25 rankings have been in constant flux this season.
Duke avoided being caught in that churn Sunday night under a difficult set of circumstances.
An odd day of travel to a game against a second-division ACC team in Boston College, which was mixed into a string of games with high emotion, nearly caused Duke to suffer consequences similar to what teams such as Indiana, Kansas and Louisville absorbed last week.
Instead, the Blue Devils toughed out a 62-61 win and, as a result, vaulted up to No. 2 in the Associated Press poll that was announced on Monday.
Duke (21-2, 8-2 ACC) scored the last six points on Sunday night to beat Boston College (10-13, 2-8).
The Blue Devils did so after their usual travel routine — flying up the day before a game, enjoying a good night’s sleep, a pregame meal, then playing the game and flying home after — was thrown a curve.
The major snowstorm that hit New England closed Boston’s Logan Airport until late Saturday night. So Duke’s chartered flight couldn’t fly in from North Carolina until noon on Sunday.
The Blue Devils, as a result, looked out of sorts offensively in the first half when Boston College took an eight-point lead before the teams were tied 27-all at halftime.
“After the fact, you can look at it,” Duke senior center Mason Plumlee said. “You get into a rhythm. You get there the night before, you have your meal and go to bed. It was different, but things like that happen.
“We’ve got to be better. NBA guys do that all the time. They fly in at 3 a.m. and play at noon sometimes.”
Plumlee shrugged off a sub-par first half to score 19 points. Because of that, and his 30-point game against N.C. State this past Thursday, he was named the ACC’s player of the week on Monday
The Boston College game also fell in the middle of a tough stretch of games for the Blue Devils. Duke beat N.C. State 98-85 on Thursday, avenging an earlier loss, before an emotionally charged crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Up this week is the rivalry game against North Carolina at home on Wednesday (9 p.m., WRAL/ESPN) and the always-tough trip to Maryland on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN).
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, while praising Boston College for a solid effort that he said was good enough to beat the Blue Devils, was glad his team overcame a tough circumstance.
“Throughout the season, if you want to have a really good season, you have to fight human nature,” Krzyzewski said. “Human nature is playing State and winning a big game, this, and then we have a big week with Carolina and Maryland coming up. It’s Sunday night. There is a lot of human nature stuff going on. It’s going to have an impact.”
The Blue Devils shot only 37 percent in the second half, 40.4 percent for the game, and had more turnovers (13) than assists (12).
Yet Duke won and will carry a five-game winning streak into the game with UNC. That, Krzyzewski agreed, offers a different look at his team.
“I like that my team won and the way we had to win,” Krzyzewski said. “Nothing about (Sunday’s game) was easy. These are games that anybody could lose and, throughout the country, everybody is losing them. Our guys found a way to win against a team that was also deserving to win, so that’s a real good thing.”
After opening a six-point lead, its largest of the game, in the second half, Duke wasn’t able to put away Boston College. The Eagles took advantage of Duke’s poor shooting and built a 61-56 lead.
But the Eagles didn’t score over the game’s final two minutes. Duke pulled out the win and learned something positive.
“(It was) a new game situation for us, and I thought we handled it great,” Plumlee said. “Those last two minutes, we were really good.”