It has been an eventful last six days for Duke basketball.
On Thanksgiving, last Thursday, the Blue Devils were in Portland for the PK80 tournament. They played three close games in four days. The final game, an 87-84 win over then-No. 7 Florida, ended well after midnight East Coast time on Sunday. Then the team flew back to Durham, arriving at 9 a.m. Monday.
The players went to class, then hopped on a plane on Tuesday to go to Bloomington, Ind., to prepare for their game Wednesday night against Indiana. Duke (9-0) beat Indiana 91-81, but it was a grind. The Hoosiers led by four with a little less than five minutes left to play before Duke came back.
It was the Blue Devils’ ninth game in 20 days.
“We’re exhausted,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. It was just past midnight on Thursday, hours before Duke was to head back to Durham.
With the exception of the Michigan State game, it appeared Duke, the top ranked team in the country, had handled its first few games with ease. But it has become apparent over the last few games that the traveling has begun to wear on the Blue Devils. Duke said it has traveled more than 8,500 miles on the road.
Prior to Wednesday night, Duke had trailed at halftime in each of its past three games. It was down 16 to Texas last Friday and down 17 to Florida late in the second half. Against Indiana, Duke trailed by four points late in the second half.
But in each of those games, it eventually found a way to win.
That should bode well for the Blue Devils late in the season – or in the NCAA tournament – if they ever find themselves down late in the game. They’ll be able to look back on those games against Texas, Florida and now Indiana.
“This team is real special,” Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III said. “We locked in at the end and got stops when we needed it and got out and got buckets. So we just played hard and got out on top.”
The 6-11, 234-pound forward scored 23 points and added 10 rebounds Wednesday night.
But still, Duke is trying to figure out how to put together a complete game from start to finish.
“It seems like we’ve been a ‘last eight minutes of the game’ type of team,” said senior guard Grayson Allen, who finished with 21 points against the Hoosiers. “We’ve got to get better and start off better.”
Too often, an Indiana player got past a Duke defender and went unchallenged at the rim Wednesday. Texas and Florida did the same.
Indiana scored more points in the paint (46) than Duke did (44). Duke has some of the most talented big men in the country. During the last four minutes of the game, as Duke pulled ahead, it locked down Indiana defensively.
So how does Duke fix its first-half struggles and put together a complete game?
Practice, Krzyzewski says.
“We need time to fix it,” he said.
Krzyzewski said there hasn’t been time to practice since the trip to Portland.
“With a young group, you have to have and expect slippage,” he said. “Their habits are not well-defined yet. The only way to develop a habit is to practice. The main habit we’ve developed over these nine games is how to win.”
“Now we have to get more definition in how we run an offense, what we’re doing defensively.”
Unfortunately, the Blue Devils won’t have time to do that before their next game, Krzyzewski added. Duke plays against South Dakota on Saturday, so he’ll give the team Thursday off.
Krzyzewski said his team has to learn how to play better defense and talk more.
“We have a lot to work on,” Krzyzewski said. “This is a work in progress, but it’s a good work in progress.”