DURHAM, N.C. – Duke junior forward Amile Jefferson is amused by how outsiders tend to view the Blue Devils: Win a few games in a row and they’re an invincible juggernaut; lose a couple and it’s "What’s wrong in Durham?"
That sums up the past 10 days at Duke. Losses to North Carolina State and Miami cracked the cloak of invincibility that was arguably surpassed only by Kentucky. Wins against No. 10 Louisville on Saturday and Pittsburgh on Monday suggest they’ve reclaimed their lost mojo -- and, to an extent, they have.
“We’re definitely where we want to be after having a horrific week last week losing two straight games,” Jahlil Okafor said after Duke’s 79-65 win over Pittsburgh, the 999th for coach Mike Krzyzewski. “We’re getting back to the things we did before and starting to find ourselves again.”
Sophomore guard Matt Jones said losing back-to-back games humbled the team, and he believed the team appreciated winning a little bit more.
“Obviously you can grow to be cocky when you have a very young team and guys who haven’t been through it,” Jones said. “The losses definitely benefited us. We played really well the last two games; hopefully we can keep it going.”
Duke followed a season-low 36.9 percent shooting performance against N.C. State with its worst performance at home, shooting 43.9 percent against Miami. In their wins over Louisville and Pittsburgh, the Blue Devils shot a combined 47 percent.
Freshman guard Tyus Jones broke out of his shooting slump in a big way against Pitt, tying his season best with 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
But regaining confidence has much more to do than just making shots. Jefferson credited a players-only meeting held at Quinn Cook's house before the Louisville game. Players were too worried about their individual performances instead of how it factored into the collective group.
“When you’re successful you can think more about what have I been doing, what have I been contributing instead of what have we been doing, how can I make us better,” Jefferson said. “That’s the biggest thing that’s been changing these last two games and I think we’re going to keep it this way because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t.”
Jefferson also said they still have a ways to go.
The Blue Devils previously solidified their swagger on the road, winning at then-No. 2 Wisconsin in December, and they’ll have to return to the road to regain it against more top-10 teams.
Sure, it was good to see shots go in and to pick up the two wins, but Jefferson knows the pendulum could just as easily swing in the wrong direction during the Blue Devils’ upcoming three-game road trip.
“We definitely got something back because our shots were falling amazingly tonight, so guys are not lacking confidence,” Jefferson said.
They’ll need that confidence when they travel to St. John’s, No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 2 Virginia to close out January.
Duke split with the Cavaliers last season, needing a late Rasheed Sulaimon 3-pointer that got a friendly Cameron Indoor Stadium bounce to finish off the Cavs last season in their only regular-season meeting. They lost to UVa in the ACC tournament title game. Virginia arguably has been the most consistently good team in the nation this season.
Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant is exactly the kind of guard that made Krzyzewski change to zone in the first place. Unlike Louisville’s putrid shooting performance, the Fighting Irish could give the Blue Devils problems from behind the arc, shooting 40 percent from 3-point range. Krzyzewski might have a dilemma of having to choose between man-to-man or zone against the Fighting Irish.