"Every game right now is a must-win for us," Duke guard Nolan Smith said, knowing the Blue Devils don't want to fall off their first-place perch. "If we want to win the regular-season championship, we have to take every game seriously."
Duke has three ACC games remaining, beginning with the game at Virginia. A victory in that game could clinch at least a share of the regular-season title for the Blue Devils, depending on Maryland's result a day earlier at Virginia Tech.
The Blue Devils have won four consecutive conference road games, putting their road struggles earlier in the season behind them. This will be the only meeting with Virginia.
"We've got to take care of that game," forward Lance Thomas said. "That's a game we have to take care of, especially away."
The Blue Devils are trying to eclipse the four-win mark in ACC road games for only the second time in four seasons. They have two chances to pick up one victory to do that, with the other road outing coming at second-place Maryland.
DUKE 70, TULSA 54: Duke overcame a shaky first half to pull away from visiting Tulsa in the final nonleague game of the season for the Blue Devils. The score was tied early in the second half before Duke produced a 26-6 run, with the final score a season-low point total for Tulsa.
Nolan Smith scored 18 points and Kyle Singler added 17 as the Blue Devils won their 77th consecutive nonconference home game.
--Duke is closing in on a potential regular-season championship in the Atlantic Coast Conference, though the jumbled nature of the standings behind the Blue Devils leaves several contenders heading into the final two weeks.
Duke is a lock for the NCAA Tournament, although there's still something special to this team regarding its place atop the standings.
"Of course it does," forward Kyle Singler said when asked if the league title matters. "We haven't won a regular-season championship (with the players on this team), so that's one of our goals and we're just trying to chip away."
The Blue Devils are still working on improving along the way. They've recently see senior center Brian Zoubek increase his role in terms of production, while freshman guard Andre Dawkins has fluctuated in his contributions. Yet Dawkins showed against Miami that despite a reduction in playing time in some games, he could still make a difference.
"The object of the game is to win and play the best basketball that you can," Singler said. "As long as you can improve and win, you build confidence."
--Duke has one of the top scoring trios in the country with G Jon Scheyer, G Nolan Smith and F Kyle Singler. They combined for 63 points against Virginia Tech on Feb. 21, and they were averaging 53.7 points per game entering the week, basically in a dead heat with Notre Dame's top trio, which was at 53.5 points per game. All three of these Duke players ranked among the top 10 in ACC scoring.
--Duke's next ACC game comes at Virginia on Sunday, and that is the only meeting of the season between those schools.
ON THE SPOT: The Blue Devils have become a little too anxious, even while running up a seven-game winning streak. They've discovered that a little patience can prove productive because many of their games turn into grind-it-out affairs.
There's a tendency for them to aim for knockout blows rather early, so they're learning that they must depend on building off each possession for some of these victories. Several of their recent double-digit wins have come in games that have been tight in the second half. They're trying to do a better job of avoiding rushing into things, especially on the offensive end.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The standards here are very high, but they're not easily (achieved). ... Winning the regular season would be a really good thing for them. But not the end-all." -- Coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose current players have never won an ACC regular-season championship, although the Blue Devils are the reigning ACC Tournament champions.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The Blue Devils have won games in a variety of fashions in February. They've built big early leads and managed those margins. They've had to produce in late-game situations. And they've had a come-from-behind victory at Miami.
- Duke 77, Maryland 56
- Duke 81, Miami 74
- Duke 67, Virginia Tech 55
- Duke 70, Tulsa 52
- at Virginia, Sunday, Feb. 28
- at Maryland, Wednesday, March 3
- vs. North Carolina, Saturday, March 6
- ACC Tournament, Greensboro, N.C., Thursday-Sunday, March 11-14
IN FOCUS: Duke is trying to put more players in comfortable positions away from the basket on offense. This has shown up with F Lance Thomas hitting jump shots, and it's also present when F Mason Plumlee launches jumpers. Now, there's the need for consistency from some of the players whose offensive contributions have been marginal or sporadic. Developing another scoring threat could be a luxury for the Blue Devils.
--G Nolan Smith continued a stretch in which he has produced considerably more in the second halves of games. He scored 11 of his 18 points after halftime against Tulsa, including providing six of 11 points during Duke's 11-0 run to break a 34-34 tie.
--C Brian Zoubek has had four or more offensive rebounds in 12 of the team's 28 games this season, including the past four games. He's averaging 12.3 total rebounds in the past four games as a starter. Three of his five double-doubles have come this season as a senior.
--F Kyle Singler hit nine of 11 free throws against Tulsa, coming one made foul shot shy of matching his career high. The junior has attempted 135 free throws this season, second most on the team behind G Jon Scheyer.