Duke's big road week begins with Pitt
For a change in its last outing, No. 18 Duke put full faith in its defensive success to win a basketball game.
The result would have been unheard of when the season was new in November, when the Blue Devils allowed 75.7 points per game over their first six outings.
Now, with Saturday’s 78-56 win over Florida State in a game where they shot a season-low 30 percent, the Blue Devils head to a new ACC outpost that will test their defense once again.
No. 20 Pittsburgh welcomes Duke to its sold-out Petersen Events Center tonight (7 p.m., ESPN) boasting one of the nation’s top records and an offense that scores 76.3 points per game, second in the ACC behind Duke’s 81.6 scoring average.
The Panthers (18-2, 6-1 in ACC) trail only fellow ACC newcomer, No. 2 Syracuse (19-0, 6-0), in the league standings. Riding a four-game winning streak, Duke (16-4, 5-2) seeks to catch Pitt.
“Just watching those guys, they are great,” Duke point guard Quinn Cook said. “It’s going to be hopping there. It’s a great test for us.”
While Duke was blasting Florida State at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday, the Panthers were beating Maryland 83-79 in College Park, Md. Lamar Patterson, a smooth 6-8 forward who has emerged as one of the ACC’s top players, scored 28 points against the Terrapins.
Pitt has won all 12 games it’s played at home this season. While respectful of what they are about to face, the Blue Devils enter the game with soaring confidence.
“That’s why you come to Duke, to go to someone else’s building a silence the crowd,” Cook said. “We’ve got a tough one. They have got a great team.”
Duke looks like a different team since suffering its last loss, 72-59 at Clemson on Jan. 11.
“They have used that loss to learn,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said Saturday after his team committed 21 turnovers while losing to Duke.
The Blue Devils have reeled off four wins in a row, allowing 56.8 points per game. Duke’s foes have shot 42.7 percent (85-of-199) from the field, including just 29.4 percent (10-of-34) during the Blue Devils’ winning streak.
That allowed Duke to beat Florida State despite its worst shooting day of the season on Saturday.
“Defense,” Cook said. “It says a lot about defense. Guys weren’t on like we usually are. But we stepped up. We stepped up. Great rebounding from the big guys and the guards. If we just keep fighting and start making shots, we’re going to be an even better team.”
The Blue Devils are rebounding better, too, and will need to keep doing that to have any chance at Pitt tonight and at Syracuse on Saturday (6:30 p.m., ESPN).
Duke gained a 47-24 rebounding edge over Florida State one game after grabbing 14 more rebounds than Miami in Wednesday night’s 67-46 win over the Hurricanes at Coral Gables, Fla.
Freshman forward Jabari Parker, already the team’s leading scorer with 18.7 points per game, averaged 14 rebounds a game against Miami and Florida State.
The Blue Devils are better, redshirt sophomore forward Rodney Hood said, because they decided to make things better.
“Everybody’s all in,” said Hood, one of the team’s three captains. “I think that’s the biggest thing. We were at the bottom - we lost two games that we should’ve won (against Clemson and Notre Dame). Once you’re down at the bottom, you don’t have anywhere to go but up and you want to get out of that mud. So we just had a different mindset and we’re going to keep it going.
“We’ve got a tough Pitt team at their place, which is going to be tough, but if we keep playing like we’re playing, we’re going to be in a good position.”