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Putting the 'D' back in Duke

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

EAST LANSING, Mich. – By any standard other than interplanetary travel, it is a long flight from Alaska to North Carolina. Share a plane with Mike Krzyzewski after playing uninspired defense in losing the Great Alaska Shootout and pretty much nothing can compare.

"It felt like two days," Chris Duhon said.

Two days of waiting for what would certainly be a couple of blistering, intense practices prior to another road trip to No. 5 Michigan State, where the prime principle of the program would be on the line.

Namely to put the "D" back in Duke.

The result of all that soul searching at 30,000 feet and the ensuing practice sweat?

Blue Devils 72, Spartans 50. The second-worst home loss in Tom Izzo's career.

"Obviously the kids played unbelievable defense tonight," said Krzyzewski, no doubt ready for a smooth, pleasant trip home. "We just made it difficult to get open looks."

Sixth-ranked Duke (4-1) simply overwhelmed State here on Wednesday, controlling every facet of the game and leaving Izzo questioning the direction of his team. In a highly anticipated showdown, the Spartans got drilled.

"I owe an apology to 15,000 people," Izzo said. "There are no excuses when a team is so inept."

So often through the years Duke has won because its superior offensive talent was capable of pushing a scoreboard to 100. The Devils' cast of NBA talent poured points on hapless opponents. Defense was important, but it wasn't imperative.

But this is a different team. Krzyzewski has some players, but there isn't a Jay Williams, a Shane Battier, a Grant Hill that can break open a game offensively. It showed in Alaska, where the Blue Devils were shaky defensively in winning two ugly contests before watching Purdue pound them in the championship game.

It was the kind of loss and the kind of effort Krzyzewski, still a Bob Knight disciple at heart, has never tolerated. Duke was outworked.

"We were really disappointed against Purdue," Duhon said. "Their wings, [David] Teague and [Kenneth] Lowe, outscored our wings [39] to 20. We are a better perimeter defensive team than that."

So Krzyzewski sat the two prime defensive offenders, J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing, and sent out backup Sean Dockery, who seems to live in a defensive crouch, to set a tone. He had two deflections and a steal in the first minute. It took State more than 4 minutes to score a point.

Tone set. Program recharged.

"If I had to pick one kid, I'd pick Sean Dockery," Krzyzewski said of his star of the game.

Dockery helped make a mockery of State's half-court offense. The Spartans (3-2) committed 20 turnovers (16 in the critical first half) and didn't have a double-digit scorer. Their 50 points was 26 below their season average. Duke made 16 steals and six blocks.

Duhon, who had been criticized by Krzyzewski for alack of senior leadership, added 10 points, six assists and three big steals.

"We just fought them for 40 minutes," he said. "On the whole flight home [from Alaska] everyone kind of looked in the mirror and said, 'OK, are we going to do this alone or are we going to do this together?' We answered that tonight."

The highs of the Duke locker room stood in contrast to Izzo's crushed emotions. He admittedly lives for a game like this: big-name opponent, overflow crowd, an amped atmosphere.

Getting the Blue Devils in Breslin was supposed to bring out the best from the Spartans. For Izzo, there isn't a coach in the country he respects more than Krzyzewski.

"Today was a big day for me," he said. "A big day for our program. And we got kicked."

Krzyzewski wasn't ready to kick the Spartans when they were down. He was satisfied that the foundation of this team, this program, is restored. Duke's season will start with defense and end with defense. It isn't powerful enough to win any other way this year.

But if it guards like this, Duke can beat anyone.

A point the Blue Devils emphatically made here.

"We shouldn't be a program that makes statements," Krzyzewski said. "We should just play."

And fly home content.