PHOTO (Duke Athletics): Mark Williams dunks on a break from the right side.
By TOM SHANAHAN
Oh, how the Cameron Crazies would have let Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim have it. COVID-19 fan restrictions not only offered respite from Boeheim coaching to counter Duke fans, he also was spared 40 minutes of vocal chants.
Never mind that some of the Crazies may have been among those on social media criticizing Jalen Johnson for leaving the team to prepare for the NBA draft. They would have made Boeheim their target. Their taunts might have even gotten Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski up from the bench, telling them to calm down. That happened a year ago when he misinterpreted chants directed at Pitt coach Jeff Capel, a former Duke player and assistant coach.
By tip off, Boeheim, whose criticism of Johnson had circulated on social media, was an old story. He had already walked back his comments. He and Jay Bilas ameliorated their spat resulting from the ESPN analyst condemning Boeheim for criticizing Johnson.
The game held little drama as Duke jumped out to early leads, withstood a couple of Syracuse rallies and eventually put away the Orange 85-71 Monday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
More significant than what Boeheim said or didn’t say was Duke keeping alive its NCAA hopes with a mature performance compared to a Monday night three weeks ago. Duke came up flat on Feb. 1 at Miami in a 77-75 loss just two nights after a promising 79-53 win over Clemson.
“We had flash backs of that,” Duke freshman guard Jeremy Roach said. “We emphasized to stay locked in on Sunday. Just flip the page after the big Virginia win and get locked in on Syracuse. This was huge win for us and we did lock in and flipped the page.”
It was Roach’s turn to visit the media on a virtual interview as he freshman guard D.J. Steward continued their hot play. Steward led the Blue Devils with 21 points, freshman center Mark Williams posted his first double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds and sophomore Matt Hurt scored 15.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski praised his team for its maturity between then and now, but he added a difference was Duke played at home on Monday rather than winning a Saturday game, practicing Sunday and traveling to Miami.
I’m proud of my guys,” he said. “A lot of my veteran teams would not have won this type of turnaround game.”
Williams was at the end of the bench most of the season and the most important practice sessions were with assistant coach Nolan Smith on learning to play inside. He converted a spectacular dunk when he got out on the fast break and senior guard Jordan Goldwire delivered a pass from half court Williams caught at the rim on a spring and slammed home.
Now he’s becoming a regular visiting the media room for Zoom calls.
“It’s always fun when you win,” he said of his new routines. “I think we were well-prepared. We had a great day of prep yesterday. It was a quick turnaround. Overall, we’re just trying to keep this winning streak, just trying to stay consistent, stay hungry. You have to take it one game at a time, prepare for each game like it’s your last, and stay aggressive, stay hungry, and try and win each day. As a team, we’ve had a great mentality toward each game, and I think now it’s just starting to pay off.”
Boeheim could have been accused of making a grudging reference to Duke being better without Johnson with his praise of Williams.
“The big guy is good,” Boeheim said. “He’s really good. He’s made them a better team. The reason I said they were better.”
But basically l’affaire Jalen Johnson has blown over. And no one is talking about what Duke is missing in their lineup.
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