Desperate times for No. 20 Duke after 3 straight losses
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) The Atlantic Coast Conference's ''Sportsmanship Week'' didn't get off to the best start with questions about a lack of postgame handshakes by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, which may have crystallized the Blue Devils' mounting frustrations.
After Duke's third straight loss, a 64-62 defeat against Syracuse on Monday night, Krzyzewski skipped a few Orange players during the handshake line – a move that was caught by television cameras and almost immediately went viral on social media.
Duke spokesman Jon Jackson said Tuesday that the school had no plans to comment on what happened with the handshakes. Krzyzewski, who was traveling Tuesday, isn't scheduled to meet with the media again until after the Blue Devils' game Saturday at North Carolina State.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim didn't immediately return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.
The handshakes – or lack of them – appeared to be an indication of how frustrating it's been lately for the 20th-ranked Blue Devils (14-5, 3-3 ACC). This is the lowest they've been ranked in two years, and they are on their longest losing streak since 2007 – also the last time they fell out of the Top 25.
Duke's most recent three losses were one-possession games in the final minute – but the game-winning plays were made by Clemson, Notre Dame, and most recently, Syracuse.
''That's kind of the situation we're in right now,'' guard Matt Jones said after the game. ''We have to learn how to push through that, and we're getting a heavy dose of that right now.''
Against the Orange, the Blue Devils trailed by one point in the final seconds when Jones and Syracuse's Malachi Richardson collided while chasing the tapped-out rebound of Grayson Allen's missed layup. No foul was called on the play, nor was one whistled when Jones appeared to be tripped behind the midcourt stripe as he hurriedly tried to take a desperation heave at the buzzer.
Afterward, Krzyzewski shook some Syracuse hands before skipping six Orange players, rejoining the handshake line and finally looking around the court for someone – possibly one of the game officials – before having a conversation with ACC basketball administrator Paul Brazeau on his way off the floor.
It was a bizarre bookend to a game that started with the teams shaking hands as part of the league-sponsored show of sportsmanship.
But Duke's problems extend beyond a possible postgame slight.
During Duke's recent slide, two of its biggest issues – a lack of experience, and a lack of healthy bodies – have been obvious.
Jones is the only active player who has consistently logged significant minutes during the 2014-15 regular season, though Allen came on strong during the postseason run to the program's fifth national championship.
Meanwhile, one of the captains, high-energy forward Amile Jefferson, remains out indefinitely with a broken foot, and the Blue Devils are just 6-4 without him.
Duke is pretty much down to a six-man rotation with graduate student Marshall Plumlee as the only true post player. Chase Jeter, a 6-foot-10 freshman, has played only about four minutes during the losing streak and didn't get off the bench in the Syracuse game. Rice transfer Sean Obi played four minutes against the Orange.
After that game, Krzyzewski described Duke as ''undermanned'' and ''under-aged,'' praising their work ethic and lamenting that, ''We are playing our hearts out, and that has not been rewarded.''
Things could get worse before Duke's efforts are rewarded.
The Blue Devils still have to play No. 2 North Carolina twice. And No. 17 Louisville twice. And No. 13 Virginia. And No. 15 Miami on the road.
''As always, there's a sense of urgency to win, but for some of the younger guys who didn't appreciate that sense of urgency at first, now it should be hitting them hard,'' Plumlee said. ''Coach has been doing this a long time, so he knew right after our first loss. The season is capable of going any which way. He's been really pushing us to give our all, and that's something we need to do a better job of.''
AP Sports Writer John Kekis in Syracuse, New York, contributed to this report.
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