A four-game winning streak has given Duke control of its own destiny as the sixth-ranked Blue Devils seek their first regular-season ACC title since 2006.
Brian Zoubek made their latest victory easier than expected.
Duke’s senior center hopes for another big effort Wednesday night as his team visits Miami, where the Hurricanes hope to continue a recent trend of giving the Blue Devils trouble.
Making his first start of the season, the 7-foot-1 Zoubek scored a season-high 16 points and grabbed a career-best 17 rebounds - including eight on the offensive end - as Duke beat Maryland 77-56 on Saturday to take over the outright ACC lead.
“I’m just playing a lot more aggressive and just feel good out there,” Zoubek said. “I feel like I’m in really good shape, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been all together.”
Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler comprise the top-scoring trio nationally and draw much of the attention for Duke, but the normally quiet Zoubek was 7 of 10 from the field in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,000th game with the school, taking advantage after Krzyzewski gave him the chance to start in place of struggling sophomore Miles Plumlee.
“They talk about us three because we score, but obviously we have guys who do so many things,” Scheyer said. “Zoubs, he’s done a great job for us all year, and obviously I’m happy for him that he had a breakout game. But his defense has been there the whole year. He’s been there the whole year. It just took a big game like this for everybody to notice.”
Scheyer still led Duke (21-4, 9-2) with 22 points, giving him at least 21 in each game during the Blue Devils’ winning streak. He’s 13 for 24 (54.2 percent) from 3-point range in the four victories, which include a home win over then-No. 21 Georgia Tech and victories at Boston College and North Carolina.
The Tar Heels’ stumble to mediocrity has opened the door for Duke, which has watched its arch-rival claim the last three conference regular-season crowns.
The Blue Devils have five more league games, including meetings with pursuers Virginia Tech and Maryland and the finale against North Carolina.
“We haven’t won a regular season championship, so that’s one of our goals and we’re just trying to chip away at it,” Singler said.
Although Miami (17-8, 3-8) sits near the bottom of the ACC standings, the Hurricanes could provide another stiff challenge for the Blue Devils, who are just 3-4 in true road games this season.
Then-No. 5 Duke lost its most recent visit to the BankUnited Center 96-95 on Feb. 20, 2008, with the Hurricanes boosted by a career-high 26 points and 12-of-14 shooting by current senior Dwayne Collins.
Miami took the Blue Devils to overtime at Cameron Indoor Stadium last season, but lost 78-75 on Feb. 7, 2009.
The current Hurricanes cruised through a weak non-conference schedule but have yet to make an impact in ACC play, losing seven of their last nine against league rivals including a 74-66 defeat at Clemson on Saturday.
They shot 52.0 percent from the field against the Tigers but were tripped up in part by a dismal 7-of-17 showing from the free throw line.
“I was disappointed in our ability to get to the line and then we missed our free throws,” coach Frank Haith said.
Miami hopes it will help to play its next three games at home, where the Hurricanes are 11-1.