There were similarities between Duke’s 82-78 loss to North Carolina, and the 81-77 loss to St. John’s on Saturday.
Not necessarily from an effort standpoint, but how the second half seemed to go.
Duke led 49-45 at halftime. But for the second straight game, the Blue Devils were outworked to start the second half. UNC (18-7, 7-5 ACC) went on a 16-2 run through the first four minutes of the second half.
And before Duke knew it, it was down by 10 points.
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Duke (19-5, 7-4 ACC) would again wheel its way back, cutting the Tar Heels’ lead to 3, but it could not complete the comeback.
Duke now has lost three of its last four games and is heading in the wrong direction. The Blue Devils are now tied for third with Miami in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
In January, after its loss to N.C. State, Duke was playing its best basketball. The Blue Devils notched wins against opponents who, while they were among the ACC’s worst teams, helped Duke improve on defense.
Duke even played well against No. 2 Virginia, a 65-63 loss. But Duke’s last two losses, in particular have not looked good.
Here were five observations from the game:
1. Duke improved from St. John’s game, but still isn’t good enough
Duke scored with ease in the first half. The Blue Devils also cut down on the turnovers that have plagued the team at times this season. In the first half, Duke had only three turnovers. For the entire game, the team had eight. So there were some improvements.
But Duke still struggled defensively. UNC had a lot of open 3’s, and missed many of them. UNC junior guard Kenny Williams finished 6-for-12 from behind the 3-point line. All of his shots seemed to be open.
Duke’s big men challenged shots at the rim. But its inability to guard players out on the perimeter contributed to many of the open 3’s. Duke forced only two turnovers in the entire game.
“We’ve got to get stops,” Allen said. “A four-point lead can’t turn into a 10-point deficit that fast.”
2. Trevon Duval’s struggles affect Grayson Allen’s play
Duval had another bad performance. He started with promise, but his play dropped after a while. He turned the ball over four times, which is uncharacteristic of how he played earlier in the season.
Through the first three games of the season, Duval had 30 assists and 4 turnovers. In his last three games, he has 14 assists and 10 turnovers.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski took Duval out multiple times after bad turnovers. Duval only played 20 minutes and eventually fouled out.
When Duval comes out of the game, senior guard Grayson Allen runs the point guard. That means, instead of coming off screens and looking for his shot, Allen is looking to get his teammates open instead.
Allen was 3-for-9 from the floor and had 9 points.
3. Duke is giving up too many offensive rebounds
Duke is one of the best rebounding teams. But recently, its defensive rebounding has been poor.
Wake Forest had 16 offensive rebounds against Duke in Winston-Salem, although the Blue Devils won that game. St. John’s also had 16 offensive rebounds in Saturday’s loss. And it was a problem again in the loss to the Tar Heels.
UNC had 20 offensive rebounds. UNC took 18 more shots than Duke did in the second half. A large part of that was biggest the Tar Heels had multiple chances at the rim.
“It means you’re on defense for a long time,” Krzyzewski said. “You play defense and you’re on defense again.”
Said Allen: “A lot of their offensive rebounds were guys crashing from the perimeter. Our bigs are doing a really good job of fighting down there, but all those loose ones that get tipped up has to be the perimeter coming to get those.”
4. Marques Bolden can be a factor for Duke down the stretch
Krzyzewski went with a lineup that he hadn’t used before. During a stretch in the second half, he played 6-11 Marvin Bagley III, 6-10 forward Wendell Carter Jr. and 6-11 center Marques Bolden at the same time.
Krzyzewski said it was something they worked on in practice with Bolden back.
Bolden had one of his best games of the season, especially considering the opponent. When he went 4-for-4 in the first half, UNC did not have an answer for him. He had eight points in nine minutes and one block. He didn’t score in the second half.
“Marques did well,” Krzyzewski said. “He gave us a huge lift in that first half, but again he’s not in the optimum playing shape that he hopefully will be soon.”
5. Bad shot selection in the second half
Duke scored only 29 points in the second half. That was the second fewest points Duke has scored in a half this season. The fewest was 22 against Virginia on Jan. 29.
There were a lot of contributing factors to Duke’s lack of second-half points. But one of the biggest was the team’s shot selection. There were multiple times when players shot the ball without moving the ball around.
Bagley, Duke’s leading scorer, went 10 minutes late in the second half without even taking a shot.