On Tuesday night, both Mike Krzyzewski and Kyle Singler seemed at a loss to explain Duke’s initial inability to put up points against N.C. State. After a thrilling win over Georgetown Saturday, the Blue Devils had come out flat, inexplicably, against a Wolfpack squad fresh off an overtime victory over Georgia Tech. Duke’s unsightly 29 percent shooting clip in the first half reflected the struggles of normally-reliable sophomores Singler and Nolan Smith, who were a combined 2-for-8 before the break.
It wasn’t as if the Blue Devils hadn’t come ready to play. Krzyzewski and his team knew there could be a letdown, especially on a Tuesday night, when the Crazies might not come out in full force. In the words of Singler, the same kind of kind of letdown cost Duke their game against Michigan after the tremendous road win at Purdue. He wasn’t about to let the same thing happen this week.
“Coming off of a big win like that, you sometimes can let your guard down a little bit,” Singler said. “I think we came ready to play [Tuesday], but we can play better basketball than we did [in the first half].”
It was a bit of an unlucky first half, when the eight-point Duke lead could have easily been double that. But the Blue Devils’ shots didn’t fall, and instead, it was N.C. State falling into a rhythm.
“We didn’t see the ball go in, and then they took control of the tempo of the game,” Krzyzewski said.
A critical moment occurred with eight minutes to play in the game. Singler was called for his fourth foul, which forced Krzyzewski to make a choice: Ask Singler to step up and use the versatility he is known for, avoiding that fifth foul, or risk losing him with plenty of time still left on the clock?
There was no hesitation on Krzyzewski’s part.
“Many games are won from the eight-minute mark to the four-minute mark,” he said. “Everyone sees the last four minutes, but if we don’t win those eight to four, we’re not going to win the game. I didn’t think it was much of a gamble [to leave him in]…. He did a great job, and he scored a number of points after that, too.”
It would be hard to argue, given the outcome. When Singler committed his fourth foul, the score was 54-53, with Duke on top by one. N.C. State would score only three points the rest of the way. Eight minutes later, as the buzzer sounded, the scoreboard read 73-56.
“It was a one- possession game,” Krzyzewski said. “That game just turned during the last eight minutes. It’s crazy.”