After getting crushed by the Buckeyes 85-63, coach Mike Krzyzewski pulled no punches. "I was just trying to figure out how not to lose by 30," he said after the game. "We've kicked some butt. Tonight my butt's sore."
The Temple score was more competitive—Duke lost 78-73—but the effort was lacking again. "I'm disappointed in our group," Krzyzewski said, pointedly avoiding the word "team". "We didn't show up tonight."
After both games, the team endured marathon practices and meetings, and the coaches changed the lineups and rotations to try to find a spark.
On Saturday came perhaps the toughest loss of them all.
When Duke and Florida State squared off in Cameron, it was described as "a man's game" and "a heavyweight fight."
The win over Virginia a week and a half earlier, also described with similar terms, paled in comparison to the physical war with the Seminoles. And as so often happens in a heavyweight bout, one combatant took a shot and went down in a heap.
After tying the score with less than five seconds left on a hard-fought Austin Rivers layup, the ‘Noles raced down the court and found a wide-open Michael Snaer for the game-winning, buzzer-beating three pointer.
Down went Duke. Down went the Cameron winning streak, at three years and one shot shy of a school record. Down went Rivers, photographed in a heap under the basket, mourning the loss on the floor.
The Blue Devils trudged off the court, shell-shocked and gutted.
"We're hurting right now," Seth Curry said.
"That kind of killed the spirit," a still-emotional Austin Rivers said. "Hitting that (game-tying) shot felt so good and then … I don't know how he got open."
Duke failed to defend the home court. They suffered a defensive lapse at a critical point in the game: A few days later, Krzyzewski gave an answer to Rivers' lament. He got open because the defense failed to close a trap on the ballhandler.
"Normally we go two-on-one on the ball handler," he said. "We had that set up and didn't funnel him to the big. We're supposed to put it on at three-quarter court and funnel him to the sideline. He got to go to the middle instead. "Seconds…Tenths of seconds are important in that situation. If you can hold him up, you can prevent him from getting that burst."
But unlike the previous two losses, the aftermath hasn't been as grueling in Durham. That's because not all losses are created equal, and sometimes a loss doesn't leave a coach with as much in need of repair.
"It's more how we handle a performance," Krzyzewski explained. "You might win and not perform well. We'd be hard on our guys about that. You can lose and not play well, and we're going to be hard. Or you can lose and play really well. That's a little bit different reaction."
"Poor performance is what we spend a lot of time reacting to. We tell them if we played really hard or not. We tell them if they did something that's not very intelligent. In other words, you tell them the truth."
The truth is, Duke played well enough to win. A few fluke plays were the difference: A Rivers three before the half waved off because it grazed a camera wire. An off-balanced, banked-in three by Snaer at the halftime buzzer. A second-half three pointer by Xavier Gibson, which was just the tenth of his four-year career.
That's not to say that there was nothing left to fix. Krzyzewski was critical of the interior defense. But it isn't a time to be tearing down the team for bad habits. It's a time to build them back up and repair their damaged psyches.
Krzyzewski preaches to the team, "Performance takes care of winning," but the performance was there, and so was one of the toughest losses a Duke team has taken in recent years.
"We came ready to play. That's what's so disappointing in the loss," Ryan Kelly said.
Sometimes, you do almost everything right, and it doesn't pay off. Sometimes bad things just happen.
"If you lose and you're busting it the whole game, you just lose," Krzyzewski said.
Now, with a trip to Maryland on the horizon, the staff needs to convince the team to keep busting it anyway.