DURHAM After an uninspired first half Tuesday night, Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski could tell his team needed energy.
So, he did his best to manufacture some.
“We seemed dead,” Krzyzewski said. “We didn’t have the life that we normally have.”
Waiving his arms to urge on the crowd, his team, anyone in blue and white, really, Krzyzewski got his desired result, as the Blue Devils awakened to open the second half. That initial burst gave Duke a cushion it would not relinquish in the 79-57 victory.
Playing its first game outside the top 10 since Nov. 2007, the No. 16 Blue Devils (12-3, 1-1 ACC) came out flat for the first 20 minutes, entering the break with a one-point lead. But, with Krzyzewski’s urging, Jabari Parker drew a foul on a jump shot, Rasheed Sulaimon converted one of his own, Quinn Cook hit a 3 and Parker put back his own miss, forcing a Georgia Tech timeout to stop a 9-2 Duke run. The Blue Devils were ahead 43-35, and the Yellow Jackets would not close the gap to fewer than five points the rest of the way.
Cook also noted the lack of energy during the first half, and he, too, attributed the spark to Krzyzewski.
“Coach K got on us at halftime, and we responded,” Cook said. “We’ve gotten that before, but coming off a loss, we’re supposed to be out there jumping, and I think we did that for the first couple possessions, then we let go. We’ve got to keep going for 40 minutes.”
Midway through the second half, Duke was ahead 60-50 – the same situation as Saturday at Notre Dame before allowing the Fighting Irish a 20-4 run. This time, though, after the teams traded a string of empty possessions, Rodney Hood hit back-to-back 3s to increase the lead to 16. That was enough to bury the Yellow Jackets, who did not again cut the deficit to single digits. By the end, the Blue Devils were smiling, exchanging chest-bumps and high-fives, looking much more happy and relaxed.
Cook noted it’s a balancing act, keeping an edge and having fun – against East Carolina and Vermont, he said, the celebration started too early, and those teams came back. Keeping proper poise has been a work in progress, he said.
“We’re getting better at it,” he added.
Hood led the Blue Devils with 27 points with 8-of-12 shooting from the floor, including a 5-for-7 mark from long range. To end the game, he made four straight 3s – a feat not seen since, well, Ryan Kelly against Miami last season.
Cook had 13 points and Parker 12, with a 4-of-12 shooting effort. In the past two games, Parker is 6-of-22 (27.3 percent) from the floor. He struggled to guard Georgia Tech center Daniel Miller in the post and was replaced several times after missed defensive assignments.
When asked if he was hitting a freshman wall – the college season is longer and more physical than anything the high school or AAU circuits offer – Parker said, “Yeah, I think so.”
“It’s an experience I can learn from,” Parker said. “It will get me stronger, to know that every game has to be important. I high school, you have certain games that you don’t want to play.”
Krzyzewski isn’t worried about Parker, whom he acknowledged probably is playing out of position. If Duke had a viable bigger option, Parker would play on the wing. But that’s not the make-up of this team, and Parker will continue to learn.
“You’ve got to be optimistic,” Parker said when asked about his struggles ending.
Based on what he has accomplished so far, there’s no reason not to be.
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