DURHAM – Duke might not be a power team, but the Blue Devils believe they have found a way to beat teams that are.
After three subpar games to start the Atlantic Coast Conference, particularly two losses in which Duke was beaten around the basket, No. 18 Duke went simple to beat a more physical team. The Blue Devils leaned on hustling against a massive Florida State rotation, winning, 78-56, Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“Height really doesn’t make the rebound. It’s just about the desire to get the ball, so that’s what we try to go out and do,” Duke forward Jabari Parker said. “I think that helps us get leads. I think it establishes those leads that we get in the first half when we’re able to pull (away from) teams.”
Parker grabbed 14 rebounds by himself Saturday, 10 of which were offensive, the most by a Duke player since Elton Brand in 1999.
Despite Florida State’s size – five players 6-foot-9 or taller are in the Seminoles’ regular rotation – Duke was plus-19 in the rebounding category and snared 27 offensive rebounds, its most since grabbing 23 in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
Duke’s ability to rebound had been in question even before playing a team as big as Florida State.
Notre Dame pushed Duke around in the second half of the ACC opener, then Clemson outrebounded Duke, 48-30, a week later. Both were losses.
“That’s what good teams do: They take what people perceive as a weakness and make it one of their strengths,” Duke forward Amile Jefferson said. “Our guys did a great job (Saturday) on the boards. Guys came off the bench and got some offensive rebounds, and nobody took plays off. That was the best part.”
Duke’s ability to rebound Saturday had the added bonus of roping Florida State into foul trouble.
Five Seminoles had at least four fouls – two fouled out – forcing FSU coach Leonard Hamilton to surrender a significant size advantage in an attempt to stay in the game, which Duke led by as many as 20 in the first half.
When the Seminoles were looking to avoid fouls, Duke drove the ball directly at them, leading to 43 free-throw attempts and 34 makes.
“I don’t know if we played power, I just think we hustled,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “ … They protect the basket well, but we got them into some (trouble) with some driving and second-chance points, and we got them into some foul trouble.
“Once we got them into the double bonus, we wanted to really drive the ball, and our kids did.”
With two important games coming up, Duke’s ability to play against physical teams will be important. The Blue Devils travel to No. 20 Pitt today, then will play a road game against No. 2 Syracuse on Saturday.
Both teams are former Big East heavyweights known for toughness, especially this season, when each has a forward – Lamar Patterson of Pitt and C.J. Fair of Syracuse – up for ACC Player of the Year.
With its top two in-conference tests upcoming, Duke believes it has to focus on what it did well against Florida State.
“Everybody’s all in. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Duke forward Rodney Hood said. “We were at the bottom. We lost two games we should have won. Once you’re down at the bottom, you don’t have anywhere to go but up, and you want to get out of that mud.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz @rmtelegram.com