On Tuesday night, Duke gritted out a win over Michigan State in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup. Three nights later, it took all of three minutes for coach Mike Krzyzewski to see things weren’t quite the same.
“They just got out of character,” Krzyzewski said after Duke’s 78-61 win over an 0-4 Southern team. “They thought it would be a lot easier than it was.”
After the huge Michigan State win, it’s human nature that the Blue Devils might have a letdown, especially against Southern, who lost to Illinois by 47 in its opener.
Duke jumped out to an early lead with five quick points by Wendell Carter Jr., and it seemed like the rout was on.
On the other end of the floor, however, Southern took a midrange jumper. As the ball headed toward the rim, Gary Trent Jr. and Marvin Bagley III turned to head upcourt. Southern pulled down the offensive rebound and hit a three-pointer for its first points of the night.
And Krzyzewski had seen enough. He called time out to scold his team.
“Well, guys were leaking out,” he said. “When a shot was taken on defense, we should have five guys on the boards and there weren’t five guys on the boards. Guys were trying to get down the court quick — just not the way we play.”
It’s no coincidence that Trent was the first player pulled from the game, two minutes later. It’s likely also not a coincidence that he went on to pull down a career-high 10 rebounds, one of three Blue Devil freshmen to rebound in double figures.
“Once he came out and went back in I thought he played differently,” Krzyzewski said of Trent.
Krzyzewski’s mood wouldn’t improve for awhile, though. Southern tied the score at 25 late in the first half, forcing the Blue Devils into 15 turnovers and hanging around in the game.
A late run to close the half gave Duke a 10-point lead going into the locker room, but Krzyzewski wasn’t satisfied.
“He said we were playing horrible,” Carter said. “That simple. And I think that clicked everybody on.”
Another reason for the slow start may have been a new NCAA rule.
“You have to give a day off every week to kids,” Krzyzewski said. “If you have a three-game week (which Duke has next week), we can’t give a day off, so then you either have to give two days off either the week before or the week after.”
The week after next wouldn’t work.
“We have nine games in 20 days, and a travel day doesn’t count as a day off,” Krzyzewski said.
That meant Duke had to have two days off this week, in between the games Tuesday and Friday.
“So, we won a big game, and then we had to give them two days off,” he said.”
The break may have left Duke a step slow, and facing a very beatable opponent, which made for a dangerous combination.
“I can’t speak for everybody and say people weren’t energized and took them for granted,” Carter said, “but we’ve just got to come out and play unselfishly, like we’ve been playing for these first three or four games we’ve already played.”
Krzyzewski pointed out that, despite his displeasure, Duke still won the game. Even better news, the Blue Devils will be back on the practice court over the weekend.
“I think we’re going to have a great practice tomorrow,” Carter said.