Anatomy of an Upset: How Duke Lost

ShawnKrest

The Duke Blue Devils suffered the most improbable loss of the year, at home to Stephen F. Austin, on a buzzer-beating layup in overtime.

How did the No. 1 team in the polls lose to a Quadrant IV team from a conference that was previously winless against the Blue Devils? (Duke’s most recent game against a Southland Conference foe was a 51-point win over Central Arkansas earlier this year.)

As with most upsets, whether in March or Thanksgiving week, it was a perfect storm of great play by the underdog, with several instances of the favorite leaving the door open.

First, what Stephen F. Austin did right:

Clean defense: The Lumberjacks play tough defense, but they also tend to get into foul trouble. Tuesday night was no exception. Between 10:51 of the second half and 8:43, three SFA players picked up their fourth foul. A fourth Lumberjack was whistled for his fourth at the 4:16 mark. None of them ever picked up their fifth, turning in a combined 24:58 of play with four fouls. It’s fitting that Nathan Bain, who hit the coast-to-coast layup at the buzzer, did so after playing 9:16 with four fouls.

Cinderella hero: While top player Kevon Harris poured in 26 points, and Cameron Johnson added 16 off the bench, one of the biggest shots of the game came from one of the least likely suspects.

With 2:18 left, Duke’s Vernon Carey blocked a SFA shot and Cassius Stanley hit a three-pointer at the other end to give Duke a two-point lead. It was a back-breaking sequence close to the end of the game.

As Stephen F. Austin came down court, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski pulled out a surprise, having the Blue Devils switch to zone. The Lumberjacks aren’t a good outside shooting team, so the move was designed to fluster the underdogs into rushing a bad shot.

Almost immediately, Gavin Kensmil kicked the ball to David Kachelries, who knocked down a three-pointer to give the lead back to Stephen F.

Up until that point, the Stephen F. Austin bench had made just 12 three pointers … on the season … and were hitting just .286 from three. Kachelries was just 4-for-16 on the year. And the guy passing him the ball, Kensmil, had just three assists in 135 minutes heading into the game. It was the kind of improbable hero an epic upset seems to need.

Then there were the things Duke did wrong, which could signal problems down the road for the Blue Devils.

Perimeter Defense: When a team gets outscored 64-36 in the paint, it’s easy to think that the big men got bullied, but Carey had 20 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks. Many of Stephen F. Austin’s paint points came not as a result of dominant big men but dominant guard play. Like several of Duke’s opponents earlier this season, the Lumberjacks were able to drive to the basket, beating Tre Jones and other Duke guards off the dribble.

Jones is considered one of the best on-ball guards in the country, but he’s been victimized by fast first steps all year long, and it led to drives into the lane and layups, fouls, or passes to wide open bigs under the basket when the driving man drew a double team.

Bench play: Duke was outscored 27-7 in bench points. That’s largely due to the fact that Coach Mike Krzyzewski barely played the non-starters. Jack White got 29 minutes off the bench. The other four Blue Devils who left the bench to see action—Javin DeLaurier, Joey Baker, Jordan Goldwire and Alex O’Connell—combined for 23 minutes and four shots. The strength of this Duke team was its depth and ability to mix and match lineups for any situation, but that doesn’t work if the bench players don’t have the coach’s confidence.

Turnovers: All season long, Duke has been victimized by quick hands inside, stripping the ball away from players in the post. The Blue Devils had 22 turnovers in the game, leading to 22 points by SFA, many on the fast break. The final sequence of the game was triggered by a pass in the post that Matthew Hurt couldn’t handle.

Duke was outscored 27-7 in bench points. That’s largely due to the fact that Coach Mike Krzyzewski barely played the non-starters. Jack White got 29 minutes off the bench. The other four Blue Devils who left the bench to see action—Javin DeLaurier, Joey Baker, Jordan Goldwire and Alex O’Connell—combined for 23 minutes and four shots. The strength of this Duke team was its depth and ability to mix and match lineups for any situation, but that doesn’t work if the bench players don’t have the coach’s confidence.

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