Not much was a struggle for Duke in the 73-54 crushing of the Orange. Except one little thing that has turned into an eternal struggle for two of Duke’s green stars.
"I can’t throw him an ally-oop for some reason," Tyus Jones said, speaking about Justise Winslow. "I don't know how many times I’ve overthrown him or hit the rim, but he’s extremely athletic. It’s crazy how his head is up by the rim."
There were three missed connections from Jones to Winslow early in the game (Quinn Cook showed him how it was done twice). That was about all that slowed Winslow up, as he posted a career-high 23 points (on 10-of-16 shooting), along with nine rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Winslow has been playing his best basketball of late, peaking at the right time.
And getting healthy, too.
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The bruised ribs and shoulder soreness Krzyzewski said Winslow was dealing with on Jan. 19 was actually more serious than that—Winslow has been playing with a fractured rib, he said Wednesday. Since the Pittsburgh game, Winslow has been playing with protective padding under his jersey, and, clearly, he has now gotten used to it. Over the past nine games, Winslow has shot 53.4 percent from the floor and scored in double figures every time out.
"He’s not completely healthy, but he has learned to play through it," Krzyzewski said. "In other words, the injuries he has had are not going to get worse by playing. You’ve just got to get accustomed to the protective device that he has. It’s different, and when you’re 18 or 19, it’s the first time those things happen. That’s an adjustment. But he’s made it."
Injuries are Duke’s main concern heading into postseason play. With Quinn Cook taking an awkward fall after a transition lay-up in the second half against Syracuse, the Blue Devils now have three players with bad ankles: Cook, Grayson Allen and Jahlil Okafor.
Okafor missed just one game with his sprained left ankle, but it started tightening up on him during warm-ups, to the point where he had to go back inside for more physical therapy and a new tape job. The ankle didn’t noticeably affect his performance, as he finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds and also effectively limited Rakeem Christmas’s touches as well.
Just like in the first Duke-Syracuse game, Christmas was a virtual-non factor offensively, scoring just 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting. He fouled out with 9:42 left in the game and the Orange down 19. Jahlil Okafor hit one of his two ensuing free throws—his first make after seven misses—to give Duke a 58-38 lead. The Cameron Crazies responded with loud cheers, which, Krzyzewski said probably embarrassed him.
Okafor, who is a 54.2 percent shooter from the line, finished 1-for-7 from the charity stripe. The Blue Devils, who shoot just 68.7 percent from the line as a team, went 2-for-8 in the first half and 9-of-16 (56.3 percent ) for the game.
"I think it is a little bit (a mental thing)," Krzyzewski said of Okafor’s free throw struggles. "There’s no question about it. And then everyone is clapping for him—I think he is probably embarrassed about that. He’s the best player in the country. And so, anything that is a little bit wrong, you don’t like that. He’ll work at it. He’ll work at it better if he was completely healthy.
"Look, I have faith in him. We’ll just keep working at it. Hopefully against Wake Forest he gets fouled and goes 6-for-6 or 16-for-16, whatever they are calling that night. You never know."
With Christmas bottled up on the interior (again) and without Micheal Gbinije shooting lights out, like he did in the Carrier Dome, the Orange just couldn’t generate much offense. Syracuse (18-11, 9-7) shot just 30.6 percent for the game and an abysmal 3-of-20 from 3-point range.
Gbinije, who scored a career-high 27 points in the teams’ first meeting of the year, finished 12 points, shooting 5-of-20 from the floor. The goal was to keep him out of the paint, Krzyzewski said. Mission accomplished.
For Duke, the main goal of the year—winning an NCAA championship—is creeping closer and closer. Yes, there is an ACC Tournament to play before that, but that’s certainly not the main goal, as Krzyzewski pointed out.
"The ACC is important, but the NCAA is the most important," Krzyzewski said. "We’ve got to get them well by then."
And maybe even nail down that Jones-to-Winslow ally-oop, too.