<
>

Duke shows once again that it can flip a switch -- and overcome its flaws

play
Duke pulls away late to avoid upset at Indiana (1:27)

Duke goes on a run in the final few minutes to hang on and defeat Indiana 91-81. (1:27)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- If there were ever a time for Duke to take an upset loss, Wednesday had all the ingredients.

It was Duke's fourth game in seven days and its first true road game of the season, at a raucous Assembly Hall in Archie Miller's first huge home game at Indiana.

The Blue Devils got five total points from their bench and shot 18 percent from 3-point range, Wendell Carter Jr. fouled out, and they looked worn down late in the second half.

It didn't matter.

Duke dominated the final five minutes like it did against Texas and Florida at the PK80 last weekend, pulling away for a 91-81 win over Indiana.

Against Texas, Duke went down 69-62 with 5:24 left. The Blue Devils ended up sending the game into overtime and outscoring the Longhorns 12-5 in the extra period. Against Florida, Duke went down 82-72 with 4:38 remaining. The Blue Devils finished the game on a 15-2 run to win by three.

On Wednesday against Indiana, the game was tied 76-76 with 5:09 remaining. Indiana didn't make another field goal, and Duke finished on a 16-6 run.

In the past three games, Duke's opponents have shot a combined 5-for-25 from the field in the last five minutes of games and overtime. In that span, the Blue Devils have outscored their opponents 56-19.

"The last three or four games, that's what it came down to," Marvin Bagley III told ESPN. "We've just gotta figure out a way to do that in the beginning instead of waiting all the way to the end, where it could be a chance we might not come back. You've gotta start playing defense like that in the beginning of the games to get stops, to make sure we get out ahead."

Two things are true right now: Duke is the best team in the country, and Duke is far from a finished product. The Blue Devils have plenty of flaws.

Their man-to-man defense has been carved up consistently throughout the opening month, forcing Mike Krzyzewski to switch to zone defenses for long stretches, as he did Wednesday night. Opponents are getting easy scoring chances at the rim, with a severe lack of rim protection from Duke's bigs defensively.

Duke isn't a very good perimeter-shooting team, and that might not change. Grayson Allen is a very good 3-point shooter, and Gary Trent Jr. showed the ability to make shots in high school even if that hasn't translated yet. But Trevon Duval is a non-shooter from 3-point range, and Alex O'Connell isn’t playing enough in big games to make an impact.

The bench is giving Krzyzewski very little right now, and the starting five was completely exhausted in the second half Wednesday. They survived an injury scare when Duval went to the bench in the first half and had trainers looking at his right foot. He wasn't able to sub back into the game late in the first half and didn't put his sneaker back on while on the bench.

Duval came back out for the second half, though, and shook off some early discomfort to finish with 15 points and six assists in 38 minutes. But what if Duval went down? Duke doesn't have a true backup point guard.

"There's a lot of things. We need time to fix it," Krzyzewski said after the game. "Especially with a young group, you have to expect slippage. Their habits are not well-defined yet. The only way to develop a habit is to practice. The main habit we've developed over these nine games is how to win. Which is a great habit."

Could all this hurt Duke at some point? Of course, but the Blue Devils have already beaten Michigan State with Bagley sidelined for much of the game, come back to beat Texas and Florida and held off an upset bid at Indiana.

The perfect storm for the Blue Devils to lose has happened a few times already -- and we're still waiting for it to fully trip them up. Maybe this is just what Duke is this season: a supremely talented team that can flip a switch whenever it wants to turn a deficit into a lead or a close game into a blowout.

"We have four freshmen out there all the time," Krzyzewski said. "They're just learning how to manage a game as far as the effort, the intensity. When they learn how to play in four-minute stretches, we'll improve. We kind of pace because they know they’re going to play minutes, and they've played a lot of games. At the end, they know there's not another four minutes. We've been the better team in the last four minutes of games. It's a good four minutes to be the better team in."

Here's the scary thing: Over the next few weeks, Duke will have some time to work out its issues. The Blue Devils have another three games in seven days beginning Saturday at home against South Dakota, but then they have only one game from Dec. 10 to Dec. 29. Their starters can rest, their depth can develop, and Krzyzewski can hope to instill more consistent defensive effort.

The best team in the country -- with plenty of room to grow. That's a dangerous thought for the rest of the country.

"This is a work in progress," Krzyzewski said. "But it's a good work in progress."