Yes, it happened. Duke, the No. 1 team in America, scored 19 points in the first half of a 90-63 loss at Miami on Wednesday night. It was tied for the program's most-lopsided loss in the past 15 years.
The Blue Devils also endured the third-largest loss by a No. 1 team in Division I history. Miami earned its first victory over a No. 1 team in seven tries.
But it’s only Jan. 23.
So what’s the proper way to digest this? That all depends on your allegiance, I guess.
If you’re a Duke fan ... Don’t cry. You’re used to this. When your favorite squad gets whipped, it usually leaves the scrap with a broken nose and two black eyes. Remember last season? The Blue Devils went to Columbus and lost to Ohio State by 22 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. North Carolina beat them by 18 in Durham last March. The season before that, they were ranked No. 3 when they went to New York and suffered a 93-78 loss to St. John’s. In 2009-10, the last time they won the national title, they took a 14-point road loss against an unranked North Carolina State team.
My point is that Duke has proved in past years that it’s resilient enough to recover from these lopsided losses. They almost seem normal now. (Although I can’t say I envy any player who will be subjected to coach Mike Krzyzewski's next practice session, which could commence the recovery process.)
But this was an embarrassment. And it’s easy to say the absence of Ryan Kelly (13.4 points and 1.7 blocks per game, 52.1 percent from the 3-point line) was the main reason for the loss. I’m sure he would have helped -- although he was 3-for-10 the last time he played the same Miami frontcourt last season -- but I’m certain he wouldn’t have single-handedly closed the entire 27-point gap.
The Blue Devils struggled from the 3-point line (4-for-23) Wednesday. They’ve shot 23.3 percent from beyond the arc in their two road losses. At home and on neutral courts (16-0), they’ve registered a 43.1 percent clip from beyond the arc.
Kelly could have given them a boost on the perimeter. But what about Miami’s easy buckets in the paint? The dunks? The jump shots Duke couldn’t stop? What about the turnovers? The missed layups? The backcourt that watched the game from the team’s hotel? The selfish one-on-one basketball that belied everything Coach K teaches? No excuses. The Blue Devils didn’t show up, and they didn’t execute. With an entire half to play, they came out of the locker room with the body language of a squad that wanted to get back on the bus and go home.
It was a poor effort against an underrated team that clearly is capable of contending for the ACC crown. But it also was Duke’s second consecutive letdown on the road (it has lost both its true road games this season). The Blue Devils fell from their No. 1 post the first time when they suffered an 84-76 loss at NC State on Jan. 12. Yes, they need Kelly. But even when the 6-foot-11 standout returns, they’re going to stumble again in the ACC if they play the way they did Wednesday night, especially when they’re on the road.
If you’re a Miami fan ... Somebody call Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez and LeBron James ... even Pitbull, if that’s your style. It’s time to dance in the streets of Miami. Yes, Hurricanes. We see you now. And to be honest, it should not have taken this long. We’ve given a bunch of programs passes for injuries and suspensions.
But Durand Scott and Reggie Johnson didn’t warrant the scrutiny we've given Kelly even though the two Hurricanes starters have missed 12 games combined. Scott (NCAA suspension) wasn’t available during the November loss to Florida Gulf Coast. Johnson (broken thumb) was absent during losses to Arizona and Indiana State.
So coach Jim Larranaga hasn’t had a Miami squad at 100 percent for the majority of the 2012-13 campaign. Still, the Hurricanes’ 5-0 start is the program’s best start in nine years as a member of the ACC.
I think Johnson’s surprising return was more of an emotional boost for the team than anything. He was clearly rusty after missing eight games with a thumb injury. But the Hurricanes finally had all their key pieces. The result? They pounced on the No. 1 team in America.
I have to give my wise colleague John Gasaway credit for this must-read commentary on Miami’s D, ranked 12th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. In a Wednesday pregame post, Gasaway wrote: “Surprises have been plentiful in Coral Gables of late, but Larranaga and his players may be working on the biggest one of all. ‘Miami’ and ‘deep tournament run’ may not be mutually exclusive terms much longer.”
There is upper-level defense. And then there is Miami’s defensive execution against the Blue Devils.
This Miami squad held the Blue Devils to a 2-for-11 mark from the 3-point line in the first half. Krzyzewski's squad didn’t score a field goal for an eight-minute stretch before halftime. Quinn Cook and Seth Curry were a combined 1-for-22.
I don’t know whether I’ve ever witnessed a Duke team get punched in the mouth like that. I was in Columbus when Duke lost to Ohio State by 22 last season. But this was different. The Hurricanes’ defense really sucked the life out of the Blue Devils.
And now, the ACC race will be more interesting. NC State just lost to Wake Forest. Miami is undefeated in conference play, with a win over Duke. Kelly will return, and the Blue Devils will maintain their post as the most talented team in the conference. North Carolina and Maryland are intriguing.
Overall, the biggest development of the evening is that the ACC is not a one- or two-team league. Duke’s early push opposed that theory. The Hurricanes can win this league because of their defensive prowess and the fact that they’re finally healthy. And as Gasaway noted, the Hurricanes are built to make noise in March, too.
Now, it’s late January. And Miami eventually will play North Carolina State (road), North Carolina (home) and Duke again (road). So things could change.
But the Canes made a statement Wednesday night about their status in the conference.
In the words of the great Pitbull, from his song “Triumph,” "They thought he was done, dawg, but he's back bigger, better, stronger and free.”
I guess that describes Miami.
Should be the team’s new anthem.