Struggling In The Half-Court

The Blue Devils' high scoring offense needs help at times in a slower paced game

The Blue Devils have had to become patient on the offensive end and that has meant some lower-than-expected scoring totals. The push-the-pace philosophy has been challenged.

So this means numbers can be deceiving. Duke had a season-low five turnovers Feb. 26 at Virginia Tech, but the Blue Devils' inability to create openings in half-court sets helped lead to a 64-60 upset loss.

Duke has failed to score more than 60 points in two of its last three Atlantic Coast Conference games. And with Clemson arriving March 2 for Duke's home finale, the Tigers are bound to want to emphasize some half-court situations and keep the tempo subdued.

Guard Nolan Smith is the most apt to create his own shot in the half court. But if other players in Duke's backcourt don't show the ability to score consistently, Smith will become easier to defend. Forward Kyle Singler has started to become more assertive offensively the past couple of games, and that could help the Blue Devils.

Still, they need more consistent scorers. In order for that to happen, they have to find ways to put those complementary players in ideal shooting positions. In the loss at Virginia Tech, Smith and Singler accounted for 37 of Duke's 58 shots from the field.

--Duke carries a 64-2 record at home across four seasons heading to the Cameron Indoor Stadium finale for seniors G Nolan Smith and F Kyle Singler. The last home game of the season comes March 2 against Clemson. Singler said he has almost felt a countdown to his final home game the last few times out at home.

--The Blue Devils lost Feb. 26 at Virginia Tech, and so they'll probably lose their No. 1 ranking again a week after returning to atop the polls. The game marked the 25th anniversary of Duke's first game as a No. 1-ranked team under coach Mike Krzyzewski. On Feb. 26, 1986, the Blue Devils defeated Clemson.

BY THE NUMBERS: 39.7 -- Shooting percentage from the field for the Blue Devils in the loss at Virginia Tech. The only other time Duke shot less than 40 percent from the field this season it suffered its other ACC loss in a setback at Florida State.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Some teams think we're their ticket to the NCAA Tournament." -- Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils will face a team searching for its ninth conference win for the second game in a row when Clemson visits on March 2.



--vs. Clemson, March 2
KEY MATCHUPS: Duke should have the numbers to keep Clemson's backcourt in check. Expect particular attention paid to Demontez Stitt. It figures that the Tigers will have to find a way to prevent Duke's post players from controlling the lane. This is Duke's home finale and that often results in an extra dose of emotional energy in the building.

--at North Carolina, March 5
KEY MATCHUPS: This rematch could be to determine first place in the league or perhaps a share of the title depending on results leading up to this game. Duke needed a home comeback for a Feb. 9 victory against the Tar Heels. The Blue Devils are normally reluctant to turn to a zone defense even though North Carolina's perimeter shooting woes are well-documented in recent weeks. Duke F Mason Plumlee and F Ryan Kelly will be counted on to limit the impact of North Carolina's John Henson and Tyler Zeller.

FUTURES MARKET: The Blue Devils often make a push to jump-start specific players when they're struggling in a certain area. It worked recently in regard to senior F Kyle Singler's offense after his production waned. The next target could be sophomore F Ryan Kelly, whose sterling efficiency on offense during one stretch earlier this season has disappeared. Kelly has gone a combined 3-for-12 shooting in the last two games through Feb. 26 and his perimeter touch has declined. Because he was mostly a role player as a freshman, this is Kelly's first college season with extensive playing time, and he's bound to experience some ups and downs. He went scoreless twice in February games and then managed only two points at Virginia Tech.

--Senior G Nolan Smith's pursuit of the ACC's scoring crown and assist title took a bit of a blow when he had only two assists (of the team's six total) in the Feb. 26 loss at Virginia Tech. That marked his second-lowest assist total of the season. Smith played the entire 40 minutes for the fourth time this season, though it was the first 40-minute game for him since the team's other ACC loss, Jan. 12 at Florida State.

--Sophomore G Seth Curry had a miserable outing in his first game in Blacksburg, Va., where his father, Dell Curry, was a star for Virginia Tech. Seth Curry was scoreless in 15 minutes before fouling out. He missed his only two shots from the field a few days after pointing out how special he thought the occasion would be given his family's connection to Virginia Tech's basketball program.

--Senior F Kyle Singler will break the school record for most career starts when he plays his final home game Wednesday night against Clemson. Singler has started 139 games, tying former guard Bobby Hurley for the most in the program's history. He has made 97 consecutive starts.

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