The #2 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes took it to the Duke Blue Devils last evening and in the process they exposed some areas of weakness, but to make a big fuss out of the loss would be silly. Yes, Duke got punked against one of the most veteran teams in the nation on their home court, one where the Buckeyes have yet to leave this season.
While the margin of the loss could be alarming to some, it still counts as a single loss. It is also important to realize that the Blue Devils have been just the opposite of the home comforted Buckeyes in that they’ve been road warriors and played a lot of games in a short time. Still, there are no excuses in that Duke lost to a better team but they’ll take away a valuable lesson in many ways which will in turn make them better come March.
I mean, let’s face it, Ohio State would have beat anybody badly the way they played, all comers, if you will. It was also clear to see that this game was huge for their program as Thad Motta, at times, acted as if he’d never been there before, basking in the camera’s bright glare ranting up and down the sidelines from beginning to end with a look in his eyes that it was personal.
This is Motta’s best team in Columbus, anchored by a player most thought would be in the league in Jared Sullinger, so they’re suppose to win and be as good as they looked. Duke took their best shot and had no counter punch and that got to Krzyzewski enough that he benched unproductive regulars for true freshman Quinn Cook and Michael Gbinije.
What was happening is that he was sending a clear message to his team, that practice would be tough this week and each player will have to earn their burn. In the process, Hairston and the aforementioned freshman got some valuable time for down the road. There was not a great deal of production from them in significant minutes but that was different in little way from the regulars numbers, where Thornton and Dawkins combined for 0 points.
Ryan Kelly got caught up in the dog house as well, with a zip in the box score as well after turning in an MVP performance in Maui. Kelly had better numbers past that though but a message was being sent by Coach K and a lot of it had to do with their defense. Still, on this night it wouldn’t have mattered who was in there for Duke in that this was one of the biggest games in Buckeye’s history and they showed up in a big way.
Meanwhile, Austin Rivers showed positive signs of improvement with his play and his 22 points led the Blue Devils. He was helped by Mason Plumlee and his 16 points but past that, some Blue Devils seemed to have not packed all of their game before leaving Durham. These two kids never gave up nor played on their heels but Rivers, despite his stellar game was still figuring it all out.
It was simply a bad game for Duke, but it was just one game. Until this loss, Duke had played as good as one could have imagined with victories over Belmont, Davidson, Michigan State, Michigan, Kansas, all solid ball clubs. And unlike Ohio State, Duke beat three of these teams away from the friendly and comfortable Cameron Indoor Stadium.
While this loss might sting when realizing Duke was never in the game, save early on — it’ll be a learning experience and one where the staff will have a young teams undivided attention. The Blue Devils are a work in progress and in a sense, they are right on schedule and a loss in late November will seem a long ways off soon enough.
As a team, Duke now knows what kind of effort it will take to win in a hostile environment against as good a team that they’ll face all year and this lesson might help against the likes of North Carolina in ACC play. Personally, I will not overreact to this loss despite the fact that Duke was as much of the media is saying, got dismantled.
All that is left to do is for Krzyzewski and the team to pick up the pieces after being humbled and history shows that this will indeed happen. In the long run, Duke will be better from taking this on on the chin and tough lessons are what makes one tougher in life and in this case on the court as well.
When Duke faces Colorado State in Cameron a week from today, fans may see a shake up or two, but even if not, Duke will be a better team and a hungry one from their experience. Personally, I think they’ll run off five straight victories, including the game with Washington in New York before heading to another hostile environment at Temple just after the New Year is over. And at that time, we’ll know for sure if the lesson learned in Columbus played a role in preparing them for the coming schedule.