CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- What you saw from Duke in the second half against Miami perfectly captures the yin-and-yang of Blue Devils basketball this season: maddening and uncontrolled at one glance, blitzkrieg talent falling like an avalanche at another.
Through 11 minutes in the second half, Duke had 11 points, thanks to the combination of too many turnovers, a disjointed offense and an opportunistic Miami team taking full advantage. Duke trailed by 13 points, and Mike Krzyzewski called his players into the huddle and delivered two simple messages:
Remember the comeback wins in Portland in November.
Quit playing like little kids.
What followed was a final eight minutes that brought out a team perfectly capable of winning a national championship off its superior talent alone. With Marvin Bagley III largely taken out of the game, freshman Gary Trent Jr. stepped up with a career-high 30 points, including several huge 3-pointers, to help Duke come back and win 83-75 on Monday night.
Afterward, Krzyzewski discussed how one team could look so flawed one second and so perfect the next.
"I thought we were trying to do things only by ourselves, and when you do that, especially in a team effort, you get tight because you're out there alone, and I thought we were tight," he said. "Once we started playing together, which we have, that's what happens. It's not just a young team. That's what happens with human beings. It changes, and thank goodness they were able to change while it was going on.
"That's the beauty of it. You can lose and then say, 'Boy, we should have done this' and try to correct it, but if you correct it while the stuff is going on, that's really good, and that's what happened tonight."
Yes, and the next step is to make sure the corrections become consistent, rather than performances filled with too much helter-skelter unpredictability. Players recalled coming back early in the season in the PK80 tournament against both Texas and Florida, but at some point, epic comebacks are best left for the drama section on Netflix.
"I think we have a great team," Bagley said. "We're only getting better from here. Every day, we're just trying to get better as a team, and we’re growing together."
With any young team, making corrections, growing and learning are all part of the maturation process. But now that Duke has played six games in the ACC, expectations are starting to grow. At some point, Duke wants to see this team put together a complete defensive performance to go with an offense that can diversify itself enough to get out of holes when the typical shots do not fall and mistakes pile up.
Defensively, for example, Duke went into the game ranked 14th in the ACC in scoring defense. Although it allowed 75 points to the Hurricanes, Krzyzewski was pleased the Blue Devils held them to under 40 percent shooting. That is a takeaway he will undoubtedly share with his team.
Then there is the performance from Trent, whom Krzyzewski credits with finding more of a groove since the staff installed specific offensive sets for him against Pittsburgh on Jan. 10.
A reporter asked Krzyzewski whether what Trent did against Miami qualified as a good performance, and he said, "He's been great. You can go higher than good. He's been good all season, but he's only shot OK. He's just worked hard all year, but in the last week and a half, he's shooting the ball quicker, and thank goodness."
Bagley put it this way: "[Trent] just stayed in the game. Obviously, my shot wasn't falling, a lot of the guys' shots weren't falling, and he just came up big for us with a couple 3s. He just played his butt off the whole time. We just tried to feed off him. It was his night, and everybody understood that. We just tried to feed off him, and he led us to this one."
It was an unusually quiet night for Bagley, who was held to 13 points. In games he has played more than 30 minutes, that qualifies as a season low. During the opening minute, Bagley felt his right shoulder pop out of place after he went up for a rebound. Then he missed five minutes while trying to pop it back in. Although he said his shoulder did not bother him during the game, Miami clearly keyed its defensive efforts in slowing him down.
That worked to an extent, and so did its half-court defense, at least to open the second half. As Miami coach Jim Larranaga said afterward, "I think we played a great 32 minutes, and then everything changed. The Gary Trent Show began."
To go with that, Duke switched to a zone defense that absolutely flummoxed Miami. The combination worked so well, Krzyzewski said, "We had to play almost perfect basketball, which we did kind of in the last 11 minutes."
If that trend continues ...
"I say this every game: 'We're not a finished product,'" Trent said.