CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — It.
That's why Duke lost at North Carolina Saturday night. They didn't have "it."
It's hard to define "it," but Mike Krzyzewski said Duke clearly was lacking it.
"Whatever the hell that thing is, in the second half, it wasn't in our huddle," Krzyzewski said. "When you have it, I thought Carolina had it, and you're going to lose to a team like that."
As far as how Duke goes about finding it in time for Saturday's rematch against No. 1 Syracuse (25-1, 12-1 ACC), Krzyzewski put aside his visible disappointment to deadpan an answer.
"I'm going to tweet and text and try to have, like, a contest," he said. "Maybe we can find it. We've had it. It's going to be like a game, a party game. If we don't, we'll get beat on Saturday. Even if you do have it, you can get beat. But, man, that's, to me, the disappointing thing."
That last sentence was punctuated with emotion - Krzyzewski lingered over the word "man" like he couldn't quite believe his team had only managed 15 points in the final 15:07 in the Dean Dome while allowing UNC to shoot 50 percent in the second half.
But it goes beyond the numbers. Duke shot a season-worst 23.1 percent in the second half of its tight win against Maryland last Saturday while the Terrapins shot 46.7 percent in the same span. Krzyzewski, though, was thrilled with the gutty play of his team, and not just because they won.
During that Maryland game, as the Terps had the ball down one with just 18.8 seconds remaining, the Blue Devils gathered to discuss strategy while the referees went to the monitor. The coaches were mostly quiet.
"While we were waiting, all of our players said - it wasn't anything we said as coaches - all our players were just saying, 'Coach, we said it was going to end up on defense, let's play defense.'" Krzyzewski said then. "It was all the guys saying that. And then they made that happen. They took ownership of that last possession. That's a beautiful thing when that happens."
There were no such moment in the second half against UNC.
Instead, it was Krzyzewski trying to strike some life into the Blue Devils. It never came, though, and the Tar Heels left with a victory that sent their students spilling onto the court.
"We didn't fight the way we should have in the second half," Tyler Thornton said after the game. "That's on us. But we've got a quick turnaround, we've got a big game on Saturday."
The Blue Devils hadn't even begun to prepare for Syracuse as of Thursday night.
"We're just taking it one game at a time during this stretch," Thornton said, referring to Duke's run of four games in eight days. "That's the only way you can. You can't look ahead, you can't look back, you've just got to move forward. Once we leave this gym, it's onto the next thing. It's on to Syracuse."
The Tar Heels kept the Blue Devils off balance by mixing in a 1-3-1 zone defense with their traditional man-to-man look, and Duke struggled to adjust. The Orange will bring their traditional 2-3 zone, one that Duke made a season-high 15 3s against in the 91-89 overtime loss Feb. 1.
But many of Duke's shots fell short Thursday, perhaps a sign of tired arms and legs. Still, the Blue Devils insist energy will not be an issue Saturday.
"It's easy," Quinn Cook said. "Syracuse beat us. That's enough motivation. And then we lost today. We have two reasons to come out on Saturday focused."
No. 5 Duke vs. No. 1 Syracuse
When/where: 7 p.m. EST, Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham
Projected starting lineups
No. 5 Duke (21-6, 10-4)
G Rasheed Sulaimon, So., 9.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg
G Tyler Thornton, Sr., 3.2 ppg, 1.9 rpg
F Rodney Hood, R-So. 16.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg
F Jabari Parker, Fr., 19.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg
F Amile Jefferson, So. 6.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg
No. 1 Syracuse (25-1, 21-1 ACC)
G Tyler Ennis, Fr., 11.8 ppg, 5.7 apg
G Trevor Cooney, R-So., 13.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg
F C.J. Fair, Sr., 16.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg
F Jerami Grant, So., 12.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg
C Rakeem Christmas, Jr., 6.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg
Player to watch
Jabari Parker, Duke, forward
Parker spent most of the first game running along the baseline, hoping to find space to receive a quick pass and drive. But briefly, when Amile Jefferson went to the bench with his fourth foul in the second half, Parker took over the role in the high post, drove, and completed the three-point play. But then, on the next possession, Parker picked up back-to-back fouls that sent him to the bench with four. Watch to see if Parker plays more in the high post on Saturday.
- Speaking of the high post, ESPN Stats and Info did a thorough breakdown of how effective that spot was for Duke. When the Blue Devils got a touch in the high post, right in the donut of the Syracuse zone, their offense was three times as efficient compared to when they did not flash a player there. The Blue Devils shot 55 percent on plays that included a high post touch (35 plays, 1.37 points per play) and 16 percent without a touch (31 plays, 0.45 points per play).
- Jefferson was the most often used high-post option, and was the most effective. He was the man in the donut on 53 percent (31-of-58) of Duke's plays in the high post. Duke shot 45 percent and scored 1.16 points per play with Jefferson in the high post.
- The Blue Devils were actually the least effective with Parker or Rodney Hood in the high post, as Duke shot 5-of-16 (31 percent) when Parker or Hood were in the donut. But if Duke commits more to using Parker in the high post, the numbers could skew in a different direction.