CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- If Duke is going to amount to a real threat later in March -- if the Blue Devils are going to be a team you can confidently advance on your bracket -- then they have to start to play smarter, poised and with even more energy away from Cameron Indoor Stadium.
That’s why beating Boston College Saturday at Conte Forum, regardless of how it occurred, was a must for the Blue Devils.
Duke is something at home, clearly the top team this season in its own building (yes, Kansas has the win streak but the Jayhawks get pushed more at home than the Devils). The numbers back up the debate as Duke scores 89 points a game, makes 44.2 percent of its 3s, and shoots at a near 50 percent clip at home.
Save the win at Clemson, which was significant, the Blue Devils have sagged in true road games -- losing at Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, NC State and last week at Georgetown. Of course, three of those four teams are bound for the NCAA tournament and are hardly slouches. Still, the numbers back up the premise that this is a different team on the road, where the Blue Devils shoot 30.9 percent on 3s, score 20 points less a game, and make just 41 percent of their shots.
“We needed to win this game," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. "This is a big, big win for our basketball team based on how things have gone for us."
Duke did win, 66-63, after Brian Zoubek and Nolan Smith did a terrific job of shutting down a potential game-tying, 3-point attempt on the final play of the game. The play started out with Reggie Jackson looking for his second consecutive trey, but Smith shadowed him and Joe Trapani missed the final shot with Zoubek jumping out.
Had Trapani’s shot gone down, and the Eagles won in overtime, then Duke would have had yet another true road loss to ponder.
But the Blue Devils don’t. They earned this one by making free throws late (Jon Scheyer, Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly for 1 of 2) and rebounded when needed (19 defensive rebounds). In late-shot clock situations, Smith made a deep 3 early in the game and then drove for a key hoop that was a dagger for the Eagles.
The win comes on the heels of Duke’s dominant victory over Georgia Tech on Thursday. That’s two wins in less than 48 hours after a disastrous trip last Saturday to Georgetown.
“We weren’t emotionally ready,’’ Krzyzewski said of the Georgetown loss. “We just weren’t there and that leads to all the other things. We gave up 15 layups. They were really good. We were not very good.’’
Krzyzewski put a wrinkle into the offense to create more motion. The plan was to ensure more players touched the ball on a possession. Not everyone was going to shoot it, but at least there was a feeling that they were a part of the play. The opportunities to score were there, even if they didn’t always convert.
Still, there are warts to fix on the road with games to come Wednesday at North Carolina, at Miami (Feb. 17), at Virginia (Feb. 28) and a senior night at Maryland (March 3). Remember, the NCAA tournament is a neutral-court event without the comfort of Cameron.
Scheyer said the lack of that “killer instinct” is apparent. The “silly” errors keep occurring -- like fouling after successive rebounds to create more opportunities for the opponent (which happened to allow BC to stay in the game). That can negate Duke’s size advantage.
“We haven’t shot the ball as well on the road and that’s because we haven’t moved the ball as well,’’ Scheyer said. “When we get our best 3s, we move the ball.’’
Whatever Carolina’s record is Wednesday it won’t matter. Duke will have to be sharp to win.
“We’ve never had a problem winning on the road as long as I’ve been here," said Duke senior Lance Thomas of the issue this season. “It gets frustrating. We have to make sure everybody is right mentally on the road. We have a target on our back. Everybody wants to get us."