DURHAM, N.C. (AP)—Duke is finishing games so convincingly that it doesn’t seem to matter how tough some of its starts are.
Another strong second half carried the third-ranked Blue Devils to an 88-73 victory against Miami on Saturday, with DeMarcus Nelson scoring 19 of his 21 points after halftime.
“It’s a matter of us relaxing, figuring out what’s going on on the court and exploiting it,” Nelson said.
Greg Paulus scored 16 points for Duke (19-1, 7-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), which has scored at least 50 points in the second halves of three straight games.
This time, they won their ninth straight by scoring on nine of their first 10 possessions of the second half to successfully sidestep a possible trap with Wednesday night’s visit to archrival North Carolina looming.
James Dews scored 15 for Miami (15-6, 2-5), which has lost two straight and five of six, but kept things tight for most of the first half.
After the break, Nelson took over. The Duke captain scored 10 points during a dominating 3-minute stretch early in the half, starting the scoring with a steal and a fastbreak layup the first time the Blue Devils had the ball and later hitting field goals on four straight possessions.
“I told the guys at halftime, ‘Don’t worry about offense. Worry about defense—that’s the consistent part of the game,”’ coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Our defense might get us some offense. And then it did.”
Nelson’s follow-up of Paulus’ missed 3-pointer with 17 1/2 minutes left started a 17-6 run that pushed Duke’s lead into double figures to stay. Kyle Singler knocked down 3s roughly a minute apart during the spurt, and fellow freshman Taylor King capped it with a 3 from the right wing to make it 62-44 with 13 1/2 minutes remaining.
“We came out (strong) in the second half—seems like that’s kind of been our M.O.,” Singler said. “It was a good start to the second half, (the Blue Devils) kind of put them down, and we just sustained that for the rest of the 20 minutes.”
Miami couldn’t get closer than 10 the rest of the way and lost for the 10th straight time in the series, falling to 0-5 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Singler finished with 14 points for Duke, which held a surprising 41-36 rebounding advantage and overcame a 1-of-10 shooting performance by Gerald Henderson, who averages nearly 14 points.
“Sometimes rebounding is not all about height,” Miami coach Frank Haith said. “It’s about determination, going after loose balls, and they got to those. They shoot a lot of 3s, and they got to those long rebounds. We were in the zone and we didn’t block out as well as we should.”
Now, Coach K’s team can devote its full attention to perhaps the biggest rivalry in college basketball—and ending a pesky three-game losing streak to the Tar Heels.
“It’s the best game in regular season—until the next one—because it has two storied programs, and the NBA can never simulate that,” Krzyzewski said of the rivalry. “This game is not about coaches or specific players, it’s about Duke and North Carolina. That’s the tradition that college basketball has always been based on.”
Jimmy Graham scored 13 points, and Jack McClinton, Brian Asbury and Raymond Hicks each had 10 points for Miami, which was coming off a last-second loss at Wake Forest and has lost four straight ACC road games.
Nelson led the ACC’s best perimeter defense in hounding McClinton, the league’s top 3-point shooter. McClinton was 0-for-4 from beyond the arc—just the second time all season he was held without a 3.
“He’s got to be able to attack people off the bounce, and that’s something he’s got to work on to loosen the defense up,” Haith said. “Duke did a good job guarding the 3-point line and forcing you to drive the basketball. That’s something we have not done well all year.”
For a change, the Blue Devils led at halftime—they trailed by nine at the break of both of their last two games—but these weren’t the usual opening 20 minutes for Duke.
Overly reliant on the 3-point shot against a physically imposing Miami front line, Duke failed to make a field goal from inside the arc until Singler hit a stickback with 3:45 left. In particular, Nelson had trouble converting, missing all three of his attempts from the field.
“We left a lot of points on the (court),” Nelson said. “Our offense was moving well, we were getting great looks, great shots—We just didn’t convert well.”