Duke-Miami: Blue Devils Finally Show Some Road Toughness

Mike KlineAnalyst IFebruary 18, 2010

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 10: Duke forward Kyle Singler #12 pulls down a rebound against North Carolina during a men's college basketball game at Dean Smith Center on February 10, 2010 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Chris Keane/Getty Images)
Chris Keane/Getty Images

Duke learned something about itself Wednesday night in Miami.

In the first half, this looked very much like the same team that has struggled to play even mediocre basketball on the road. They looked like the same team that has faltered down the stretch the last three or four seasons.

The Blue Devils found themselves down 12, with their big three of Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Jon Scheyer struggling. Duke fans around the nation were probably collectively thinking—if not saying—"here we go again."

A month ago, Duke would have lost this game. In fact, any time during the last three seasons, they probably would have lost that game.

Fortunately for the Blue Devils, they realized—with the help of a less than upbeat speech from Mike Krzyzewski—that they have the talent, veteran leadership, and toughness to get out of the hole they dug themselves.

It was a refreshing sight that brought back memories of the old-fashioned Duke teams, who were never out of the game regardless of score.

In the second half, the Blue Devils came out swinging and stormed back into the game.

They clearly played with passion, which was lacking in the first half. In one sequence where Nolan Smith was on the receiving end of a hard screen, Duke players looked as if someone had attacked their brother.

They began playing with more toughness and an edge that had been lacking in other games where Duke had been outplayed early.

Against Wisconsin, the Blue Devils got behind and didn't know how to respond. The same thing happened in losses to NC State, Georgetown, and Georgia Tech.

In all of those games, Duke could not get themselves over the hump, lacking mental toughness that used to be a staple of Krzyzewski's best teams.

Against Miami, they finally showed that toughness, and it translated in a win. It was an ugly win, but it was still a win. Duke fans should rejoice in the fact that the Blue Devils have now proven they can come from behind and win.

I'm certain Duke will receive the obligatory criticism, and the doubters will continue to pick apart this team's faults. But as Krzyzewski said before the season, this team isn't all things for all men.

They've shown that, but with their latest win, they've also shown they are a tough and determined team aiming for something special.

With a few more wins, the Blue Devils can erase memories of late season failures in past years. They can also maintain a high seed in the fast-approaching NCAA tournament, where a deeper run is a possibility.

It may be difficult for some to imagine one win against a relatively weak conference opponent being symbolic of so much.

But in Duke's case, after three or four seasons of inconsistent play down the stretch, a winning streak going into March is a welcome change.

For Scheyer and the rest of the seniors, this is a chance to restore Duke to elite status and solidify a legacy that has been marked by those late season failures and disappointments.

Only efforts like Wednesday night's will help this Duke team make that a reality.