No. 4 Duke finishes three-game trip with struggling Pitt
The late-season success for No. 4 Duke has come with some defining factors, something coach Mike Krzyzewski sees as a sign of a certain development.
"We've been a much more mature team," Krzyzewski said. "We played like an older team (the past two games) and we prepared that way."
So Duke is set for its final road game Tuesday night, a visit to Pitt in the second-to-last game of the regular season.
Duke (25-4, 15-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) can clinch at least a share of the regular-season title and the No. 1 seed for the ACC Tournament by winning.
Tuesday will conclude a three-game road stretch for the Blue Devils. Success in this matchup would be another significant achievement.
"That will really develop the character of our team to a deeper level," Krzyzewski said.
Pitt (11-18, 6-12) has lost two games in a row since a three-game winning streak. The Panthers didn't have a weekend game.
That was "a chance for their bodies to recover, to mentally recover," Pitt coach Jeff Capel said of his players.
This recent stretch has been full of long-time connections for Krzyzewski, who's retiring at season's end.
Saturday night's 97-72 victory at Syracuse pitted the Hall of Fame coach against another Hall of Famer in Jim Boeheim, his long-time friend and former assistant with the U.S. national team. The trip to Pittsburgh reunites Krzyzewski with Capel, his former Duke player and ex-Blue Devils associate head coach, who was at his side for the 2015 national championship.
Capel could see the Blue Devils, who hold a six-game winning streak, rounding further into top-notch form. Duke produced its second-most points of the season Saturday night. A chunk of that came from sophomore Mark Williams' career-high 28 points.
Meanwhile, defense has been a concern for Pitt.
"We have to have great help," Capel said. "We have to be in the gaps. We have to have pride individually. You have to have all of that. Times when we've done it, we've been really good."
Duke scoring leader Paolo Banchero, a freshman, made a season-high four 3-point shots against Syracuse on his way to his 10th 20-point outing. He finished with 21.
"When his head is in the game, then he's going to be quicker and he's going to have a game like this, and that's what happened," Krzyzewski said.
Banchero said he might have snapped out of a recent funk.
"It was really just all mental, with my mentality coming into the game," he said. "Every game, I think I'm locked in, but just remembering that at the end of the day, it's fun. Playing basketball and having fun. I should be having fun on the court, getting back to smiling and having fun."
Under Krzyzewski, Duke has won 200 ACC road games, the most in conference history. The Blue Devils have seven straight road victories, including playing in front of 31,803 fans at Syracuse for the largest on-campus crowd of the season in college basketball.
"These three straight road games are difficult," Krzyzewski said.
Pitt lost last Tuesday by 85-64 at home to Miami, which was in contention for the ACC title. The Panthers finish with the top two teams in the standings; after the home finale against Duke, there's a trip to Notre Dame on Saturday.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 28, 2022