February 27, 2015

How a particular team chooses to define a losing streak depends almost entirely on its expectations. At Duke, dropping back-to-back games is considered a major slump.

The 20th-ranked Blue Devils haven't lost three straight in nearly eight years, but they're on the verge of doing just that heading into Monday night's visit from Syracuse.

Duke (14-4, 3-2) won its first three ACC games by average of 19 points as part of a five-game winning streak, then ran into a surging Clemson team that pulled off a 68-63 home upset Wednesday. It was solid offensively against visiting Notre Dame on Saturday but fell 95-91, losing for the first time when scoring at least that many points since 2008.

The Blue Devils haven't lost to three consecutive unranked foes since Feb. 1-11, 2007, part of a four-game skid that also marks the last time they dropped back-to-back home games. They lost four straight, including their first NCAA Tournament game, to end that same season, which also is the last time they lost three in a row overall.

Luke Kennard had a season-high 30 points against the Fighting Irish, and fellow freshman Brandon Ingram finished with 25. Duke ranks second nationally in scoring at 86.9 points per game but is giving up an average of 70.7, which would be its worst since allowing 71.3 per game in 1999-2000.

''We executed on offense, but defensively, we just didn't execute,'' Kennard said. ''We didn't keep the ball out of the paint. We didn't rebound very well. Defensively, we've just got to pick it up a little bit.''

Hiccups to start conference play are nothing new for the Blue Devils, who have lost two of their first five ACC games in each of the last four seasons. They lost back-to-back games around this time in 2014-15 before going on to win the national championship.

That doesn't mean much to coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has plenty of newcomers. Also, senior big man Amile Jefferson remains out with a fractured right foot suffered in practice Dec. 12.

''There's nothing from last year,'' Krzyzewski said. ''Unless you have a lot of guys (back), whatever you did last year translates a little bit better. ... It's a different year, and we just have to fight and keep getting better and not pay attention to anything else.''

Syracuse (12-7, 2-4) has fought through plenty of distractions, including a nine-game suspension for coach Jim Boeheim stemming from NCAA violations against the program.

Boeheim returned for an 84-73 loss to then-No. 6 North Carolina on Jan. 9, the Orange's fourth straight defeat to open ACC play. They bounced back for a 62-40 rout of Boston College on Wednesday before beginning a stretch of three consecutive road games with Saturday's 83-55 win over Wake Forest.

Trevor Cooney had a season-high 27 points against the Tar Heels before matching his season low with five Wednesday. His 27 points against the Demon Deacons led the way for Syracuse, which has held the opposition to 32.2 percent from the field over the last two.

The Orange face another tough challenge Saturday at Virginia after this contest.

"If we have the mentality we had (at Wake Forest), it's going to do a lot for us," Cooney said. "We know we've lost some games and dug ourselves into a hole, but we also have great opportunities to beat some teams and get some wins."

Cooney scored 13 points but the Orange shot 30.6 percent from the field in a 73-54 loss to Duke on Feb. 28, the Blue Devils' third straight victory in the series.

You May Like