Unable to fully figure out how to finish games strong is perhaps the biggest sticking point for Duke.
"We have to be able to put teams away," forward Mason Plumlee said. "We aren't going to be a really good team until we start doing that."
A 22-point lead dwindled against St. John's before the Blue Devils steadied enough to claim an 83-76 victory. But heading into the middle stretch of the ACC schedule, Duke is expecting more.
"If we're not playing good offense right now, our defense struggles," forward Ryan Kelly said. "That's not how it can be to beat really good teams."
Duke played three games in eight days and the Blue Devils seemed taxed by the end of that stretch. When they resume play at Virginia Tech on Thursday night, it will start a span of three games in seven days that concludes with a Feb. 8 visit to North Carolina.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski expressed displeasure with the latest turn for the Blue Devils.
"I want to win and I want to win by playing great basketball," Krzyzewski said. "... When you have the opportunity to knock someone out, you have to knock them out. We did enough to win, which almost makes me sick to say."
The message to his team must have been clear because the Blue Devils were questioning themselves after the St. John's game. They seem to understand they're treading in dangerous territory.
"It's crazy because the locker room setting is like we lost right now," freshman guard Austin Rivers said. "I guess that's how it should be."
Duke keeps home non-conference streak alive
--The Blue Devils kept their homecourt streak intact against non-conference opponents by winning for the 94th consecutive time when they defeated St. John's. It has been 12 years since the Blue Devils lost a home game to a non-league opponent, and that came in a one-point setback to St. John's. Still, Duke's seven previous victories overall against St. John's came by double-figure margins until Saturday's 83-76 survival. Yet that was an improvement from 2011, when the Red Storm won a matchup in New York. The Blue Devils have no more non-conference games this season.
--Duke reached the 40-point mark in half of its first 42 halves this season. That's right, the Blue Devils have 21 halves this season of 40 or more points in their 21 games. But those point totals might be leading the Blue Devils into a false sense of security. "These kids are more offensive players and they won't win big unless they become defensive players that can play offense," coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
--The Blue Devils are facing some teams with newcomers directing the operations from the opposing bench in some of their home games this season. Of their last seven home outings, two opponents have arrived with an interim coach (UNC Greensboro) or acting coach (St. John's). Those unusual circumstances will be followed by something else across the upcoming few weeks. The next three teams to visit Duke will be directed by first-year coaches as Miami, Maryland and North Carolina State show up at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
BY THE NUMBERS: 45 -- Consecutive victories for the Blue Devils when they've scored 80 or more points in a game, through the weekend. Though their 83-77 victory against St. John's marked only the second time in six games that Duke reached the 80-point mark.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I looked at the scoreboard, saw they were making a run and told myself, 'Austin, let's try to be aggressive here and make some plays.'" -- G Austin Rivers, who scored three quick baskets to help thwart the Red Storm's comeback. Even with scoring 12 points, Rivers was Duke's fourth-leading scorer in the game, though that gives him a team-high 12th outing in double figures.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Virginia Tech, Feb. 2
KEY MATCHUPS: The Blue Devils were dealt a defeat last year by Virginia Tech so they're aware of the dangers associated with this trip and should be wary of Virginia Tech's backcourt. Duke G Andre Dawkins, who's from Virginia, will be one of the players receiving attention because of his perimeter shooting as the Blue Devils play their only game in the state of Virginia this season.
--vs. Miami, Feb. 5
KEY MATCHUPS: The Blue Devils often have some struggles defending Miami and G Malcolm Grant is a big reason why because his penetration can give opponents fits. The Blue Devils should have an edge in the frontcourt with the quickness of its players compared to Miami C Reggie Johnson.
FUTURES MARKET: The Blue Devils will want to make sure G Seth Curry remains engaged in the game plan even when he's not scoring at a rapid clip. They've dubbed him as a potential leader on the team. But with point guard duties often spread around, he's often in a different role than might have been projected at the start of the season. He was the only starter to fail to reach double-figure scoring against St. John's. And now comes what might be his most challenging game because the Blue Devils visit Virginia Tech, where his father, Dell Curry, once was a star. Last season, Seth Curry went scoreless in 15 minutes before fouling out in Duke's game at Virginia Tech.
--Junior F Mason Plumlee has reached superlatives in back-to-back games. First, it was a season-best 23 points at Maryland. That was followed with a career-high 17 rebounds against visiting St. John's. He leads the ACC with nine double-doubles this season, nearly achieving his latest one in the first half against St. John's when he had eight points and 12 rebounds at the break.
--G Seth Curry pulled off a rare feat when he blocked two shots against St. John's. That's the most for Curry in a game in his two seasons with the Blue Devils.
--Senior C Miles Plumlee had given the Blue Devils a significant lift with his play since Christmas, but he took a dip in the victory against St. John's. He played nine minutes in that non-conference game for his shortest playing time in more than two months.