Easy-peasy: Duke basketball can find from within what now seems lost

Duke basketball guard Cassius Stanley (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Duke basketball guard Cassius Stanley (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Tumbling on a two-game skid, the amply talented 2019-20 Duke basketball team simply lacks the type of consistent mentality that requires a conscious commitment to both discover and then never let go.

Aggressors win. That simple claim again proved to be the case on Saturday night as this season’s second Duke basketball home loss ensued, this time at the hands of Louisville players who looked more assured than their opponents of the fact that they are winners.

“When you get hit first like that, it’s a lot to get back,” Duke freshman shooting guard Cassius Stanley said after his game-high totals in points (24) and rebounds (11) proved insufficient for victory.

The first punch certainly set the tone. Two hours before ultimately falling, 79-73 — marking the second consecutive loss due to a similar lack of confidence at Clemson on Tuesday night — No. 3 Duke (now 15-3, 5-2 ACC) came out against No. 11 Louisville (15-3, 6-1 ACC) with timid expressions and poor body language.

No surprise then that less than 10 minutes in, after one careless play after another, to the tune of eight quick turnovers — stemming from second-guessing — the Blue Devils trailed, 25-10, and were on the verge of an epic homecourt embarrassment. Evidently, Mike Krzyzewski concurs:

“We were knocked back. The physicality of the game was amazing. We could’ve been blown out by 30 or 40 points.”

Trailing by 10 to start the second half, though, a momentum shift suggested Duke had unearthed what this article is all about: that special kind of swagger, consisting of dogged determination. unquestioned shot selection, and it’s-my-ball resolve.

Maybe, during the break, the team did a YouTube search: Duke basketball legend Christian Laettner. Whatever it was that Stanley, sophomore point guard Tre Jones, and the supporting cast did to find the alpha mentality, well, it was working.

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Less than two minutes into the second half, the Blue Devils had cut the lead to four. By 11 minutes in, after three poised swishes from the charity stripe via freshman power forward Matthew Hurt, they had tied the score at 58, nearly matching their entire first-half point total in doing so.

Down the stretch, however, the freshmen played like freshmen while the sophomore leader played like he was in the midst of a sophomore slump. In other words, they reverted to their we’re-not-worthy demeanors.

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That said, Krzyzewski apparently viewed the 3-point prayers across the final minutes — not to mention the take-my-lunch-money turnovers — as hesitation-free:

“Sometimes you miss…When Cassius [Stanley] had that 3, he was open for a drive too…He should follow his instincts. We can say now that he didn’t do what he should have done, but obviously, if we get a bucket during that time then it changes the game. We were in a position to have a chance to win the game — we just weren’t able to do it.”

But replaying the deciding possessions tells a different story. Stanley took his feet off the gas by not doing what had put Duke in position to win: launching to the rim like a lion seeking his prey.

Either way, this writer is essentially in agreement with both the coach and the one Duke basketball player who at least provided some hope against the Cardinals:

“We just have to get older,” Coach K said. “I’m really up on my team. It’s a long journey.”

Stanley expressed a similar sentiment:

“Coach came [into the locker room after the game] pretty optimistic, honestly…he was obviously saying that the first ten minutes [were] horrible, but when he’s coming in here telling
you you’ve got to move on from it and you’ve got to look forward to Tuesday, none of us should hang our heads. We should just want to get better…

“No excuses, but I think we did respond well to the aggression.”

In Durham on Tuesday at 9 p.m. against Miami (ESPN) — and here on out — the Blue Devils would be wise to be the aggressor from the get-go and opt to never again settle for anything less.

Easy-peasy. Because this Duke basketball team’s depth of talent is not in question.

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