Standing on the perimeter exceptionally alone, a predicament in which he found himself often on Monday, Duke’s Andre Dawkins watched action unfold in the lane. He was poised for a pass that never came, but this was fine. Amile Jefferson powered through traffic and to a bucket, also drawing a foul, as the Blue Devils continued an emphatic second-half surge at Pittsburgh. When the score counted and the whistle blew, Dawkins jumped up and down, kicking his heels back like he was double-dutching.
No shortage of successes and leaps made to celebrate after an 80-65 victory before a volatile record crowd at the Petersen Events Center, Duke’s fifth straight win overall. Even if results underlined the doubts about Pittsburgh as a legitimately elite team – the Panthers still have yet to beat a top-50 RPI team – the tenor of a road win revolving around defense and grit and peripheral contributions underscores that the Blue Devils may yet actually be capable of what most assumed.
So, yes, to begin with, they made three-pointers. A lot of three-pointers. Like three-pointers by the barge-load. In all, 13 of them, on 52 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Dawkins came off the bench and went thermonuclear for 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting from long distance after hitting the 20-point mark just once this year and posting single-digit outings in three of six ACC games. He spent the second half with a smile basically engraved on his face, a very nice story indeed, but especially so because Duke had someone other than Jabari Parker or Rodney Hood ringing the bell.
Parker and Hood were in no way auxiliary. Parker had another double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds, and his assertiveness kept Duke afloat in the first half. (Whatever the coaching staff said after yanking Parker early for a bad pass into the first row proved a fairly effective piece of advice.) Hood had 13 points and clamped down on ACC Player of the Year candidate Lamar Patterson, with the Pittsburgh senior struggling to 4-of-14 shooting and – most stunningly – just one assist on the night. The Panthers’ premier playmaker, and one of the best in the league even as a 6-foot-6-inch forward, was stifled rather comprehensively.
On a broader scale, this should provide Duke’s greatest satisfaction leaving Monday and eyeing a showdown at Syracuse on Saturday. The Blue Devils’ defense shows signs of now stretching beyond acceptable and into what’s required to thrive at a high level.
Entering Monday, Duke’s previous three opponents posted .87, .81 and .89 points per possession, respectively. Pittsburgh wasn’t asphyxiated on Monday and, for a time, kept pace with the Blue Devils’ unrelenting shooting, but eventually, Duke stiffened enough. The Panthers shot 41.2 percent, a good dip from a league-leading 48.8 percent rate coming into the game. It was especially notable given the friendly confines and the fact that Pittsburgh had the No. 9 offense in the country, according to kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency rankings. Duke kept a very good attack down. It’s a step forward in any context.
Duke’s rebounding effectiveness (36-32) might be overstated given that Pittsburgh isn’t exactly blessed with size, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless. Emerging from the Petersen Events Center unscathed requires some level of grit, no matter how good or bad the hosts truly may be. Duke got everything it needed on Monday and will need every night from here on out: Big tertiary scoring, reliable defense and some resolve. One sweeping glance at the schedule provides reason for optimism, too, all the way into March.