In its first game in two years as the nation’s No. 1 team Tuesday night, Duke failed to do enough of the things that brought that ranking.
The biggest failure? Second-half offense, particularly not sinking a field goal over the final 5 minutes and 18 seconds of the game.
That allowed unranked Ohio State, which trailed by 15 points early in the second half and 11 with 7:18 to play, to score the game’s final 12 points to snatch a 71-66 win out of the Blue Devils’ hands.
“They played really good defense and I thought they wore us out,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I thought we were worn out at the end. Part of it obviously is what they’re doing against us.”
Part of what Ohio State did was draw fouls against Duke. The Blue Devils were whistled for a season-high 23 fouls. Star freshman Paolo Banchero had three in the first half and finished with four.
Theo John fouled out. Mark Williams picked up his fourth foul with 10:08 to play. He, Banchero, Wendell Moore and Jeremy Roach finished the game with four fouls each.
In many cases, Krzyzewski said, they earned them.
“I didn’t think in the first half we were real smart on fouls,” Krzyzewski said. “There are calls where, is it a block or a charge – that type of thing. But overall, we reached out (defensively) where it’s a foul, and that accumulates. Then if a guy has foul trouble and you’re a little bit tired too, it has an impact on you.”
The final impact rendered Duke unable to get its transition game going and caused its offense to go stale. The Blue Devils made 7 of 31 shots in the second half (22.6%), including 1 of 8 3-pointers.
Duke shot 38.5% for the game, including 4 of 14 on 3-pointers, but the majority of its success came in the first half when it built a 43-30 halftime lead.
“They got the stops they needed and hit big shots,” Moore said. “We came down, we got the looks we wanted, our shots just didn’t fall. Sometimes it happens like that.”
It just hadn’t happened like that to Duke this season. The Blue Devils were the more poised team while beating Kentucky, 79-71, in the season-opener and Gonzaga, 84-81, last Friday.
It goes back further than that. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Duke hadn’t lost a game where it led by 10 points or more in the second half in any of the last 10 seasons.
But on Ohio State’s home court before a raucous, towel-waving, sold-out crowd of 18,809 at Value City Arena, the Blue Devils lost their mojo or, to use one of Krzyzewski’s favorite words, their verve.
Moore scored 17 points and Banchero had 14. But they only combined to score 11 of those points in the second half.
Keels hit only 3 of 12 shots from the field. Roach was 4 of 10. They combined to go 2 of 8 on 3-pointers.
While beating Gonzaga Friday night in Las Vegas, Duke overcame a poor shooting night by Keels (2 of 11) and Roach (3 of 13). Moore led the team that night, along with Banchero and Mark Williams.
At Ohio State, it looked like Keels’ 3-pointer with 7:18 to play, which put Duke up 62-51, would be enough to lock down a win even though it was the lone 3-pointer the Blue Devils made after halftime.
But the Buckeyes embarked on a 20-4 run, with 6-7, 240-pound forward EJ Liddell and 6-8, 245-pound forward Zed Key, using strong moves inside with Duke’s defenders passive due to foul trouble.
“It’s part of the learning experience of being a good player – being able to play with foul trouble, Krzyzewski said. “(It was) very uncharacteristic of our team. My team has played great basketball. We played a good first half, and at the start of the second half we did not get stops. We were still scoring, and then I think with not getting the stops, we weren’t able to lengthen the lead a couple times. They just stayed right in there. It’s going back and forth, and then all of a sudden, their freshness took over.”
Duke completed a run of 8 games in 22 days with but one blemish. Now the Blue Devils get two weeks off from games, next playing on Dec. 14 at home with S.C. State, and the players can focus on final exams. Their sometimes ragged play Tuesday night showed they need it.
“Those guys are real good,” Krzyzewski said, “but they’re young and they have not gone through anything like this, so it’s a period of time – I call it an energy cycle. The season has different energy cycles. We knew that we were at the end of this one. We tried on Sunday and Monday to get our team refreshed. I thought today we were pretty good. They (the Buckeyes) play hard, so they wear you out.”