Duke’s final play in Monday’s 77-75 loss to Miami pretty much summed up the night.
It was a painful 4.3 seconds. Duke trailed by two points. Miami standout Isaiah Wong was at the free throw line with a one-and-one. He stepped to the line having made all three of his attempts no on the night.
With only Duke players lined up for the rebound, Wong missed it. Freshman Jalen Johnson ripped the rebound from his teammate, pushed the ball up the floor and had no plan of what he was going to do when he crossed the mid-court line.
So what did he do? He panicked.
Johnson, in one of the worst mental lapses of the season for a Blue Devil, threw the ball like a hot potato to Matthew Hurt with just a few tenths of a second on the clock. Hurt had no time to respond and get a shot off.
Instead of getting one last shot attempt to tie or pull off the win over Miami, the Blue Devils failed to beat the buzzer.
“I’m disappointed in our team,” Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. “I don’t know if in the quick turnaround our guys thought that this was going to be easy. We did not play well. Bottom line. We can go through a whole bunch of things. I didn’t think we competed. I thought we were soft.
“I’m really disappointed in our team. They did not play like a Duke basketball team tonight. And obviously I’m responsible for that.”
With 4.3 seconds remaining, there was enough time to get the ball up the floor and get a decent look at even a two-point shot attempt, let alone a desperation three.
Simply put, there was no reason to be in a situation to force a shot. But they were. And unfortunately, they weren’t even able to make that happen.
Johnson made a critical error. But this loss wasn’t just on his shoulders. The one play didn’t lose the game.
The team’s lack of focus, hunger and effort lost this game. It lost the Blue Devils a game against the No. 162 team in the nation, according to NCAA net rankings.
That’s 100 spots lower than Duke’s, also concerning, ranking.
“Coach was really on us from the jump about how important this game was to us and how important the game was to the program,” Wendell Moore Jr. said. “I just thought the whole team, we didn’t approach it the way we should. And as a team when you don’t approach it like that, outcomes like this happen.”
Perhaps the most shocking part of the loss is that Duke looked to be turning the corner over the last week and a half. The offense seemed to be discovering itself. The defense was picking up. For the first time this season, there was optimism that Duke was beginning to tap into its potential.
Everything was set up for Duke to get a third straight win. Miami entered the contest with a depleted roster. They were widely noted for their awful abilities on offense, particularly behind the 3-point line where they ranked last in the ACC and 323rd in the nation in shooting percentage from deep.
There’s no nice way to put it. Miami was not much of a threat shooting the basketball. Apparently Duke’s players bought into the idea as well, and as a result were as passive on defense as we’ve seen in over a month.
Krzyzewski warned his young team against that mentality. He told them to not let their own recent success, and Miami’s struggles dictate how they approached this game on the road.
“I told them if you come down to Miami to play, we will lose. If you come down to Miami to compete, we will win.
“Don’t be happy (with the previous two wins). Be hungry. I told them, we do the job, be happy on Tuesday. Lets just take Tuesday and be really happy and giddy and whatever. So none of that worked.
“And again that’s on me. I’m not just saying that. It is on me to get your message across. I was not able to get my message across.”
Duke didn’t compete. The consequence was a loss. A loss to a Miami team that shot 53.8% from 3-point range for the game, including 83.3% in the second half. Three Hurricanes absolutely torched Duke, and the Blue Devils defense never challenged them.
Elijah Olaniyi, who was a game-time decision due to an injury, scored 21 points, missing just two shots on the night. He was 8-of-10 from the field, and 3-of-5 from beyond the 3-point line. Then there was Isaiah Wong, who went 6-of-10, and 1-of-1 from three, for 16 points. Anthony Walker also scored 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting and 1-of-2 from deep.
Most of their looks were uncontested. Even after Duke realized the Hurricanes were on their game, and locked in, closeouts never happened. Open look after open look was the story.
Krzyzewski tried to respond in the first half with a zone defense, and it worked for a moment. Duke went on a 10-2 run to finish the first half and go into the locker room with a two point lead. That, too, was a disappointment though.
He felt there was more opportunity there, and Duke did not take advantage.
“Our man-to-man was horrible,” he said. “The zone really was effective. We got the lead, and probably should’ve been up four or six points. And then that petered out in the second half because we weren’t playing with the aggressiveness that you need to play with. It didn’t matter what we played, we didn’t play it well.”
Moore also attributes it to the team’s lack of focus and energy.
“I think they hit some big shots, but at the same time the shots they did hit they were pretty open,” Moore said of Miami’s success shooting the ball. “That goes from us not rotating, and also our communication on defense, which all reverts back to the energy we showed at the beginning of the game. So come out more energetic in the beginning it carries over to the end.”
Offensively, Duke was not terrible. They were on par with the last two games in regard to field goal percentage, making 46%, but struggled to shoot the three hitting only 27.8%.
Hurt scored 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting, but was just 1-of-6 from long range. Moore scored 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting. DJ Steward scored 14 points, but was just 5-of-13, and Johnson scored 13 points on 6-of-12.
That was pretty much it for offense. Duke’s other four players that saw game action scored a combined nine points.
“When it came to the offensive end, we kind of regressed a little bit – back to the team we were before we started playing so well,” Moore said. “I don’t think the blame is on anybody in particular, we just have to do a better job moving the ball.
“We have to enjoy playing the way we did against Clemson and against Georgia Tech. We can’t be complacent just because we get two wins in the ACC. We have to come every night to play.”
That takes us back to what got Duke here in the first place. Complacency. Lack of hunger. Absence of energy. No drive or competitiveness.
If there is one positive to come of this, it might be a more assertive emergence of a leader. While Jordan Goldwire, Moore and even Hurt at times have been praised for their leadership, there hasn’t been complete consistency in that either.
With that in mind, there is a voice that stepped up following the game.
Moore, who spoke to the media after the loss, did not duck questions tossed his way. He didn’t give a company line or toss clichés out, or deflect blame.
He owned it. He put it on his shoulders, but he also placed it on his teammates. If there’s any good to come from this loss, it could be Moore’s more pronounced voice within the team.