Duke’s Harry Giles (1), Matt Jones (13), Frank Jackson (15) and Luke Kennard (5) defend the basket against North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr. (4) during the first half of Monday’s game in Durham. The No. 17 Blue Devils blew a nine-point lead in the second half to lose 84-82, the first home loss against the Wolfpack in 22 years.
Duke acting head coach Jeff Capel directs the team against N.C. State during the first half of Monday’s game in Durham.
By Adam Rowe
Special to the Times
This Duke men’s basketball team is showing the ups and downs of a young squad early in the season — unfortunately for the No. 17-ranked Blue Devils, it’s the middle of Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Twenty games into the season, this group has still yet to play a full 20 minutes with every one of its players healthy and available. The hodgepodge of lineups and plugging in of players when they’re able to go has set Duke back long enough now to where it almost feels like this team is not going to be able to catch up to the rest of college basketball in time for the postseason.
MISSING COACH K
With just under 7 minutes to go in the second half on Monday’s game in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke was beating N.C. State by nine points, its largest lead of the half. Two fouls of NCSU jump-shooters and three baskets given up around the rim allowed the visiting, unranked Wolfpack, who had lost four of their previous five games, to bring the score to within one. And then the wheels fell off. A 10-3 run by N.C. State, during which Duke went 1 of 4 from the perimeter, put the home team in a hole from which it was never able to claw out.
Would head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who missed his fifth straight game after undergoing back surgery Jan. 5, have been able to coax his players into keeping their calm and withstanding the run? Its hard to say, but this team doesn’t have the typical calm in late-game end-of-half situations that the Blue Devils have shown throughout the years with Krzyzewski at the helm.
Assistant coach Jeff Capel has been put in an extremely difficult situation as the interim head coach and nobody should’ve expected him to be able to step in seamlessly for K, especially not with a team having as many issues at this one. Regardless, Duke needs Krzyzewski back on the bench as soon as possible. It could happen as soon as Saturday’s game at Wake Forest.
PLAYING ALLEN TOUGH
With all the controversy swirling around junior Grayson Allen this year, some of it self-inflicted and much of it media-created, teams are targeting him as a mark they can play physical with and try to get in his head.
It worked against Miami and N.C. State both this week, as there were scuffles mainly instigated by opposing players that caused a reaction by Allen. He had two of his worst shooting games of the season in those two games, going just 6 of 22 from the field and 1 of 12 from deep. It feels as though the pressure from the outside has started to affect Allen’s game on the court and he needs to fight through the noise to become a calming presence for a frazzled group. If he’s able to do it remains to be seen, but this has been a season from hell for the ACC and CBS Sports preseason national player of the year.
Its comeback win over Miami on Saturday pushed Duke up a spot in last week’s polls 17th. Losing to unranked N.C. State at home will likely push the Blue Devils outside the Top 25. As noted in last week’s notebook, Duke has not fallen out of the Top 25 in consecutive seasons since 1986, 31 years ago.
The Blue Devils fell behind the Hurricanes by 12 points in the first half, their biggest deficit of the season, but opened the second half on a 22-1 run. Senior Matt Jones hit three treys during a spate of 20 straight points by Duke and finished with 13 points, all in the second half, as the Blue Devils prevailed 70-58. Freshman Jayson Tatum had 14 points and sophomore Luke Kennard added 11 while Amile Jefferson, playing his first game in two weeks due to a foot injury, had 12 rebounds.
In Monday’s loss to N.C. State, Kennard’s 20 points paced Duke.
The Blue Devils are at Wake Forest on Saturday. The game, which tips at 3 p.m., will be televised on the ACC Network. Duke then visits No. 14 Notre Dame on Monday at 7 p.m. That game will be shown on ESPN.
SPRINT TO SIGNING DAY
Duke football’s 2017 recruiting class will switch from verbal commitments to signees on Wednesday, Feb. 1 — National Signing Day. But whether all 21 members of the currently committed class will make things official then remains to be seen. Duke successfully fought off Virginia Tech, North Carolina and finally Notre Dame for three-star running back Deon Jackson, as he reaffirmed his commitment to Duke earlier this week.
But now three-star defensive tackle Axel Nyembwe is getting heavily pursued by Rutgers and new head coach Chris Ash. Unlike Jackson, Nyembwe is reciprocating the interest from the Scarlet Knights, going so far as to take an official visit there and host the Rutgers coaches for in-home visits this past weekend. At this time, it looks like Nyembwe will flip away from Duke to Rutgers.
ONE LAST TARGET
The potential flip of Nyembwe makes Victor Dimukeje that much more important to Duke’s 2017 recruiting class. He just took an official visit to Duke last weekend and left highly impressed. Michigan State is fighting with Duke on top of his list of finalists (Pittsburgh, Maryland and Virginia Tech are among the other suitors), but Notre Dame just extended an offer on Tuesday and could fight for a visit this weekend.
Adam Rowe covers Duke basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com. Check out more of his work at duke.247sports.com.