DURHAM, N.C. -- Regardless of the question, the answer remains the same:
They weren't ready.
Not ready for the moment or atmosphere at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Not ready for a Duke squad hell-bent on revenge, and by no measure ready for the blitzkrieg that buried them before they could settle in for a competitive basketball game.
Notre Dame's first trip to Durham in 21 seasons ended in defeat, as did each of its previous six forays. But this time, they were thoroughly out-played, out-hustled, and ultimately out-classed.
Beaten in both halves -- murdered in the first.
"I had to look at the stat sheet and make sure it only counted as one loss, because that was a thorough beating," said Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey. "Their defense in the first half...basically the knockout punch came in the first half, their defense was really good for 20 minutes. We couldn’t get any kind of confidence going."
After falling behind 6-0 on consecutive Irish three-pointers, the fourth-ranked Blue Devils jumped all over the No. 10 Irish, racing to leads of 14-6, 29-11, and ultimately 43-13 -- three separate runs of at least 14-0 included therein.
The result of the carnage was an insurmountable 50-24 deficit at the break. Duke then focused enough to win the second stanza as well -- relevant when a team holds a 26-point edge heading into intermission. The final tally was a 90-60 humbling of a squad that beat them in South Bend just 10 days prior.
"They did to us what we like to do to other teams: they got up and pressured the ball," offered Irish captain Pat Connaughton in what ranks as the post-game understatement of the season to date. "Instead of being more physical back (at them) and using backdoor cuts and outsmarting the ball pressure, we started our offense farther out from the hoop. You never want to start your offense farther from the hoop, you want to be closer to the hoop.
"It was a mixture of that and the way they were shooting," Connaughton continued. "I think we tried to get everything back as fast as possible and it just helped them extend the lead."
Duke shot a ludicrous 81 percent (17 for 21) from the field in the first half including 7-of-8 from long range. Sixth-man Matt Jones delivered multiple knockout blows, connecting on 5-of-7 from the field (unlike his six first half teammates, Jones had the insolence to actually miss twice) while knocking down three of four from downtown, all in the corners, all on assisted buckets.
"They were fabulous, they played great," said Brey. "Where did Matt Jones come from in the first half? He was really good."
Jones scored two points on four shots in 21 minutes when the teams met on Jan. 28 in South Bend, a contest won 77-73 by the Irish.
ABSORBING PUNCHES, FAILING TO DELIVER
Notre Dame countered Duke's onslaught with its worst half of basketball this season: Eight turnovers and an abysmal 8-for-22 performance from the field including just 3-of-12 inside the three-point arc in the decisive first 20 minutes. (Of note, Notre Dame fans would have signed up for a 5-for-10 three-point effort in the first half at Cameron Indoor Stadium -- it instead resulted in a 26-point deficit.)
Game, set, match.
"You're talking about playing four-minute segments and seeing if you can chip away a little bit," said Brey of the halftime message to his shaken troops. "You give them hope because we've been good offensively and we've been able to put numbers up, maybe you can make it interesting."
Notre Dame cut the host's lead to 20 points, 60-40, with 14 minutes remaining, but Duke responded with a 12-2 run and concluded the game scoring 30 of the final 50 -- all-the-while in possession of a commanding lead.
Though the Irish players denied it post-game, it was clear they were impacted by the raucous crowd and surreal surroundings, at least when it mattered.
This was no ordinary home court advantage.
"I think for as many atmospheres as we've been in, I think it probably knocked them back on their heels, just looking at them a little bit," Brey admitted. "As much as you try to diffuse it -- I haven't been in it in awhile -- it's amazing. It's really an amazing home court atmosphere they have here."
Duke's final of three first-half 14-0 runs extended their advantage from a manageable but tenuous 29-13 game situation to a comical 43-13 margin in front of the delirious crowd that celebrated at the shell-shocked visitor's expense.
Said Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski, "(Today) there was an incredible crowd. It was a Cameron crowd."
WILL THEY LET IT LINGER?
Superstar freshman center Jahlil Okafor led all scorers with 20 points, adding 10 rebounds in 23 minutes. However, it was with the NBA's future No. 1 Draft pick on the bench that Duke thrived, outscoring Notre Dame 33 to 15 over the final 11:27 of the first half as Okafor picked up a pair of fouls on consecutive possessions, sending him to the sidelines.
"We could still key on all of their shooters and (Notre Dame) is not going to go inside that much.
"We have not executed that way in a long time," he added of the first half explosion. "That was almost perfect. I like the fact that our guys, when we got some lead, didn't let up. Notre Dame isn't going to lie down. They're going to come back at us. The first half was something to behold"
Blue Devils freshman swingman Justise Winslow was outstanding, scoring 19 points with a game-high 11 boards in 31 minutes, adding a pair of blocked shots and four assists. Classmate Tyus Jones continued his steady work at the point, chipping in 12 points and seven assists without a turnover to go with five rebounds.
But the underrated key to the contest was senior Quinn Cook, whose eight points belie his value as an on-ball defender against Irish All-America candidate and hero of the Jan. 28 matchup, Jerian Grant. Grant struggled mightily, missing six of his seven free throw attempts and seven of 10 field goals, not scoring his first point until the 1:17 mark of the first half, his Irish trailing 47-21.
"You know, he’s been so good for us, maybe he was due one of these," said Brey of his star guard. "Duke had a lot to do with it and so did Quinn Cook. Quinn Cook really guarded him, his old high school teammate (DeMatha Catholic High School, Hyattsville, MD).
Grant complimented his friend Cook, the player he lit up for 23 points and 12 assists just 10 days prior.
"They were denying a little bit. I couldn’t get the ball in spots I really wanted it in so just probably using back cuts, being off the ball a little (would have helped), but I could’ve helped more instead of just trying to get the ball. They threw a lot of different things at me. It was frustrating for me. I let my body language get to me and it affected the rest of the team."
Not surprisingly, Duke out-rebounded the Irish 40-26. Then again, there weren't many caroms to be had for Notre Dame with the host's finishing at a 60.8 percent shooting clip for the contest. The Irish shot just 39.7 percent for the game and made only three of their 14 second-half three-point attempts.
"I really felt our defense helped our offense today," said Krzyzewski. "When you start hitting some of those (shots) you can let up defensively. We had a timeout and I said, 'There are 27 minutes in this game, what we just did in 13 minutes can be done against us.'"
It could not have been. Not today. Not here. Time to turn the page.
"I would think this group would bounce back very quick," said Brey. "They’ve been through a lot, their a very together group. This is their first butt kicking, but knowing the kind of guys and especially the kind of leaders I have I would think they’re going to rally the troops and have a little edge about them in practice tomorrow."
A road trip to Clemson awaits. The Irish can ill-afford to let this loss linger.
"I have one of the shortest memories ever," said Brey. "I’m going to watch the Virginia-Louisville game tonight and I’ll be fine, believe me. When I wake up tomorrow we’ll be onto the next one. We’re in a great position in the league (tied for second with Duke, Louisville).
"Again, it did only count one loss, right?"