College Basketball

First-half funk against Notre Dame sends Duke home early

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski reacts after a call against his team late in the second half of the Blue Devils’ 74-64 loss to Notre Dame in the semifinal round of the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament in Greensboro.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski reacts after a call against his team late in the second half of the Blue Devils’ 74-64 loss to Notre Dame in the semifinal round of the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament in Greensboro. cliddy@newsobserver.com

GREENSBORO—When mentally planning out his week, Tyus Jones planned to be busy Saturday night, playing in the ACC tournament championship. It never occurred to him to think otherwise.

"No, not at all," he said. "Anytime you are going into a game, whatever you are doing, you expect to win. If you don't expect to win, you shouldn't play.

"Everyone in this locker room was expecting to win. You've got to do the things leading up to it. You've got to prepare right, mentally and physically and execute the game plan. We weren't able to do that."

It took Mike Krzyzewski exactly 102 seconds to realize something was off with his team in their eventual 74-64 loss to Notre Dame. That’s when he used his first timeout, with 18:18 still left in the first half. Duke was just down 4-2, but the Fighting Irish had driven to the basket twice with little Blue Devils resistance.

Right before the game began, Krzyzewski had given his group a few directives—Matt Jones summed it up as play angry and execute the gameplan—but Krzyzewski saw none of keys he was looking for right after the opening tip.

"That is so uncharacteristic," he said. "Obviously, it’s not because they have a bad attitude or anything, but whatever, they weren’t there mentally."

That funk lasted throughout the first 20 minutes, and Duke went into back into the locker room down 15 points, 41-26. That deficit was larger than all of their other halftime deficits combined.

Krzyzewski attempted to shake Duke out of its funk by changing the starting lineup for the second half—in were Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson, and out were Matt Jones and Justise Winslow. Allen didn’t quite have the magic touch he had the night before against N.C. State—the same could be said for the whole Duke team—and he collected his fourth foul with 17:09 left in the game. Winslow and Matt Jones returned, and Duke began to find its rhythm for the first time all night.

The last 16 minutes Krzyzewski was pleased with, he said, as Duke did (finally) start whittling away the Fighting Irish’s lead, to single digits at the at the 5:29 mark and all the way down to four points with 3:13 left to play. But there would be no late-game surge this time, as Duke finished the game with a turnover (Jahlil Okafor), two missed free throws (Okafor), a turnover (Quinn Cook), a missed 3 (Cook) a missed 3 (Tyus Jones) and another missed 3 (Tyus Jones).

"Against a good team, you can't spot them 16, 18 points, I don't know what the highest was," Cook said (it was 17 early in the second). "They're too good."

Cook, who has been remarkably consistent for Duke this year, had one of his worst offensive nights of the year, shooting just 2-of-12 from the field for seven total points, tying his season low. He had a pair of assists and turnovers apiece.

"I mean Q, I’m not blaming him," Krzyzewski said, "but he had wide-open looks."

Cook was well aware of the fact that he didn’t play well, and he cited that as he scoffed at the idea that, as a senior, he needed to remind his younger teammates of the stakes in March.

"Yeah, I mean, but first, I have to play," he said. "I didn't play well. I've got to look myself in the mirror. Guys know that. Guys were getting on me today.

"We fought back. We didn't quit. We fought back. We've got six wins to get, and we'll just take it one game at a time."

He’s planning on being busy for the next few weekends in March.

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