Essentially, for No. 5 Duke (22-6, 11-4 ACC), that was the response to splitting the season series with No. 1 Syracuse (25-2, 12-2 ACC).
Both games came down to controversial calls — or no-calls — at the end. Duke sophomore Rodney Hood was on the wrong end of one, not getting a call on an attempt at a dunk at the end of regulation in Syracuse, but he was on the right end of this one, taking a charge from Syracuse’s C.J. Fair with 11 seconds to go.
"It’s the basketball gods, I guess," Hood said. "That’s what (Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski) always says, so I guess I’ve got to start believing in them, too."
So, basically, ball don’t lie. Though Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim might argue with that, based on his reaction — he ran to mid court to confront the referees in the immediate aftermath, forcing them to call two technical fouls on him and eject him.
Krzyzewski said he is indeed a believer in other gods. But he never wants to disrespect the god of basketball, those that determine whether the ball will tell the truth.
Beyond a simple question of the ball’s truth-telling, they often reward a player who doesn’t let a few missed shots affect the way he plays, or a few calls against him, or anything like that.
In the first meeting, neither Duke nor Syracuse played a lot of defense. In the second, though, there was plenty of it. Boeheim said it was his team’s best defensive game in awhile.
Hood was the key to attacking the Syracuse zone. Krzyzewski switched Jabari Parker and Hood’s positions, leaving Hood in the high post. Instead of collapsing — as Syracuse did in the first meeting, which left Duke’s shooters open — they left Hood in a 1-on-1 situation.
Which meant Hood could run the offense. Even when he missed shots from the high post, he almost always got good looks. All while guarding Fair a lot of the game.
When Hood heard the whistle blow after Fair’s drive and basket, he was bracing himself for the worst possible outcome. Ultimately, from Duke’s perspective, the basketball gods were just.
"The basketball gods, they’re the best. They put Rodney in the two plays, the two defining plays — the dunk that was maybe a foul (in the game at Syracuse) and the charge, which I think was a charge (tonight)," Krzyzewski said. "Now, both teams are 1-1 and Hood, Hood’s the guy. Hood was the guy. This is a signature game for him. â¦ He was center stage and he came through magnificently. I’m really happy for him. He’s so deserving."
Hood doesn’t get as much attention as his talented freshman teammate Parker, who hit the go-ahead basket with about a minute to go. Parker’s had plenty of signature moments this year, mostly on highlight-reel dunks, but Hood is the steady, basketball-savvy, versatile wing that is usually guarding the opponent’s best player. All while scoring efficiently.
Even Krzyzewski has said that Hood is his most complete player.
He doesn’t mind having the ball in his hands late in games, even if it doesn’t go this way.
"I’m starting to enjoy it. I’ve been in them 5-6 times at the end of a game this year," Hood said. "I came up short sometimes and I came up big sometimes. That’s part of being one of the best players on the team. You’ve got to take that chance every time."
Both Hood and Parker might ultimately be overshadowed by Boeheim’s outburst, which will no doubt be the subject of discussion for the next few days at least.
For Parker, though, he’ll remember Hood taking the charge.
"Mostly what’s more important is the charge that Rodney took," Parker said. "That’s the game-winning play. I know I do stuff and I need to do that for my team, but that was really surprising. That was really the turning point."
Ultimately as the game — Duke’s fourth in eight days — stayed close throughout and shots weren’t falling for Duke (even from the free-throw line, where the Blue Devils have been great all year), they just had to find a way to win when nothing else was working.
It was something Duke couldn’t do at North Carolina on Thursday, or even in other losses this year. The Blue Devils have let offensive struggles affect their defense.
Krzyzewski said after the North Carolina game that he was unhappy his team didn’t have ‘it’. It was somewhat misinterpreted as Krzyzewski saying his team was tired, or didn’t try hard enough, or whatever. But really what he meant is that his team didn’t fight through the hard times.
Duke’s been in some prize fights this year — Saturday being one of them. Thursday night, though, was a UNC knockout. Duke was out-toughed, and it was that simple. And it had nothing to do with fatigue or effort or anything like that.
When UNC made things difficult on Duke with its defense, Duke took bad shots instead of working for better ones, then played bad defense on the other end. North Carolina played harder, fought through adversity better and made Duke succumb to its will. Duke couldn’t respond.
That was what disappointed Krzyzewski on Thursday — a lack of ‘it’. And ultimately on Saturday night — less than 48 hours later — it was what made him proud of his team. An abundance of ‘it’.
"’It’ was the toughness, in other words, no — there’s no alternative. You fight through everything. That’s what having ‘it’ is," Krzyzewski said. "I tell my players all the time, the people on this planet who have ‘it’ are mothers. Because when something’s happening with their kid, there’s a sense of urgency that no one on this planet can get to.
"I tell my players that. Tell me your mothers would not — they have ‘it’. For you. Now you should have ‘it’ for each other."