Trap game? Duke faces B.C. with UNC looming
Many times, it’s the games between the big games that keep good teams from having great seasons.
No. 11 Duke faced that scenario this week with games against a pair of lower-division ACC teams sandwiched in between showdowns at Syracuse and North Carolina.
The Blue Devils cleared one hurdle, fighting off a sluggish start to rout Wake Forest 83-63 last Tuesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
A game at Boston College today (6 p.m., ESPN) offers another opportunity before the Blue Devils turn their attention to the rival Tar Heels.
Duke (18-5, 7-3 in ACC) reeled off five consecutive league wins before dropping a 91-89 overtime thriller at Syracuse last Saturday night. That loss did little to dampen Duke’s confidence and the Blue Devils showed that with the lopsided win over Wake Forest.
“I think our confidence was pretty high going into (the Syracuse game) with the five wins we had in a row,” Duke guard Andre Dawkins said. “And we were right there and almost pulled that one out. We feel like we didn’t play our best game, and we were still almost able to get a win. Our confidence is high right now.
“We just really wanted to get on to the next thing and just focus on Wake Forest and get the win. We’re glad we were able to do that, and now we’ve got to get a win at Boston College.”
The trip north to snowy Boston is important as Duke plays the 11th game of its 18-game ACC schedule. The Blue Devils already have three more losses than first-place Syracuse (22-0, 9-0) in the league standings.
Duke also trails second-place Virginia (18-5, 9-1) and is tied with Pittsburgh (19-4, 7-3) for third place.
The top four teams automatically earn spots in the quarterfinals of the expanded 15-team ACC Tournament next month in Greensboro.
Fifth-place Clemson (15-6, 6-3) is just behind Duke and Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, Boston College (6-16, 2-7) finds itself at the bottom of the ACC standings, ahead of only last-place Virginia Tech (8-14, 1-9).
So, as the numbers show, stumbling against the Eagles would represent something Duke wants to avoid.
Since starting ACC play with two losses in three games, Duke has put together a solid streak of seven consecutive games. Four of Duke’s ACC wins have come by 20 points or more, including the win over Wake Forest.
“It just showed that we can get back going, everything is in the past, and we can bounce right back,” Parker, who scored 21 points, said of the win over the Deacons.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made a lineup change for the Wake Forest game, starting sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon at point guard in place of junior Quinn Cook. Sulaimon is known more as a shooting guard, but Krzyzewski likes his on-ball defense and his ability to get the ball up the court quicker than anyone else on the team.
“Growing up, I always worked on my ball handling, and in high school I played point as well,” Sulaimon said. “I haven’t played it in a while, but I kind of got back into the swing of things when coach put me back in there in practice.”
Sulaimon’s new assignment gives the Blue Devils another way to get more shooters on the court at the same time. Sulaimon has hit 58.6 percent of his 3-pointers (17 of 29) in ACC play. Dawkins, coming off the bench, has made 25 of 56 (44.6 percent).
With Sulaimon playing point, they can now be on the court together.
“It’s a lot easier when he’s attacking,” Dawkins said. “They’ve got to make a decision to help or stay with me, and then it’s either a layup for him or an open shot for me. I don’t think other teams want either one of those. “ Forward Rodney Hood has made 27 of 58 (46.6 percent) of his 3-pointers in Duke’s 10 ACC games. The team leader, albeit on fewer attempts, is senior Tyler Thornton with 10 of 17 (58.8 percent).
As a team, Duke has made 42.2 percent of its 3-pointers in ACC play. Boston College, meanwhile, has seen its opponents make 36 percent of their 3-pointers this season. That’s 13th in the ACC.