CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM—It’s five minutes before tipoff against North Carolina State at Cameron Indoor Stadium, on a cold, clear Saturday in mid-January, and the Duke men’s basketball team is taking warmups. The team looks loose; it’s been five days since their last game, when the Blue Devils fought off gritty Virginia, despite another rough night of shooting from freshman star Jabari Parker.
There’s an especially marked difference in the body language of Parker, who rolls through the layup line like he’s spent those five days in a massage parlor. A great tension seems to have been released from between his sizable shoulder blades. The monkey is off his back. Maybe he’s read the articles about the struggles of past extraordinary freshman: All-Star Carmelo Anthony’s slump in January 2003, NBA scoring king Kevin Durant’s string of shooting under 40 percent in the first two months of 2007.
Or maybe he just knows he’s playing NC State.
“Attacking,” was how Coach Mike Krzyzewski described Parker and his 23-point performance, which included seven rebounds, three steels, an assist, and 10 first-half trips to the free throw line, as Duke thumped the Wolfpack 95-60. “Everything was really good today,” Krzyzewski added.
It didn’t start that way for the Blue Devils. After screaming and swearing with fierce energy en route from the locker room to the floor, they botched the first five minutes of the game, missing shots and allowing copious offensive rebounds. By the second half, it was a highlight reel. A manic Coach Krzyzewski incited his team to such a high defensive fervor that they scoured State with 14 steals and stood defiantly in the path of their own Duke cheerleaders, boxing the nervous young women out of their rightful routines of crosscourt flips. Off a fast break, with 10 minutes to go, Andre Dawkins flipped in a signature three pointer, smooth as a baby’s bottom, one of three he’d make in his thirteen minutes on the court, to put the Blue Devils up by 21, followed by a garbage time installment of the Rasheed Sulaimon Show, in which a rangy Texas slasher takes hapless dudes one-on-one late in the shot clock for easy basket after basket. It looked fun.
“It ain’t fun,” said NC State coach Mark Gottfried. He lauded Duke’s “depth and pressure defense,” while describing several of his own big men as “not the most agile guys.” Besides his sophomore star T.J. Warren, who fought for 23 points on 9-19 shooting, no other of Gottfried’s players managed double digits, while together turning the ball over 21 times—“live turnovers” Krzyzewski called them, meaning they’d led to easy shots and points.
This was the game that Duke fans hoped for and expected after the tough victory against Virginia last Monday night, when the team showed a physical and mental toughness missing from their losses at Notre Dame and Clemson. Asked if this was his team’s best performance yet, Krzyzewski agreed mildly before meditating on the continuing inconsistencies lurking beneath the final score. “We’re more prone to having guys bad then good instead of always good,” the Duke coach said, singling out Rodney Hood—who had a comparatively leisurely 11 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists and 3 steals—as his most dependable performer. “Quinn should be able to do that,” Krzyzewski added, thoughtfully.
Despite the afternoon drubbing, the Blue Devils have yet to win a true road game, and get their chance on Wednesday night, against Miami, a team that plays ferocious defense and hopes to rekindle Duke’s inconsistencies and Parker’s slump.
Box score here.