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At Duke, BC is wary of rebound

Blue Devils especially dangerous after a loss

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 13, 2010

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If memory serves Shelden Williams correctly, it never takes Duke long to bounce back.

The Celtics forward was on the 2004-05 Blue Devils team that started the season with 15 straight wins, pasting 11 teams by double digits, then went on to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship and reach the NCAA Sweet 16. He remembers one particularly uncharacteristic stretch when a hiccup at Maryland (99-92 loss) carried over when the Dukies went to Blacksburg to play Virginia Tech and were handed a 67-65 loss by a team they had beaten by 35 a couple of weeks earlier.

That quickly, they went from coasting through the conference to being on the verge of losing three straight games for the first time in 10 seasons. It was a very real possibility with Chris Paul and Wake Forest coming to Durham, so coach Mike Krzyzewski addressed the team.

“He made a point to get into all of our heads that we’re playing for Duke,’’ Williams recalled. “We’re not playing for the name on the back of our jersey, we’re playing for the name on the front of our jersey.

“He was saying we were living off what past players were doing, which was true. We kind of took for granted what we were trying to accomplish. He made it clear for us to get our sights back in focus. We went into a must-win, gotta-have-it game and got the win.’’

The Blue Devils rang up a 102-92 victory over the Demon Deacons, then won 9 of 11.

Duke is more or less allergic to losing streaks in basketball. Throw out the 2006-07 team (a 22-11 record, the school’s worst since the 1995-96 team went 18-13), and Duke has gone 13 seasons without an actual losing streak.

The last team to hand Duke a second straight loss was Boston College, which beat the Blue Devils, 80-74, last year at Conte Forum days after Duke had dropped one to North Carolina.

When BC (10-6, 1-1) faces Duke tonight, the pressure cooker that is Cameron Indoor Stadium will be preheated to “hostile.’’ The Blue Devils (13-2, 1-1) are still stinging after falling in an intense ACC opener against Georgia Tech Saturday, so the Eagles will be in a position similar to the one they were in last weekend, when they lost to Clemson, going on the road and facing an opponent looking to bounce back from a loss.

“It’s very hard to go into Cameron as it is anyway,’’ Williams said. “But when you go into Cameron after we lost, that right there is a very tough environment . . . We just play with our backs against the wall.’’

The Eagles, struggling to find consistency and an identity, are trying to regroup as well.

“It’s always difficult going on the road regardless of who you’re playing or what the conditions are,’’ BC coach Al Skinner said. “Obviously, we’re in a little bit more difficult position because we’re trying to get it back on the road, and that’s always a bit of a challenge, but for the opponent it really doesn’t matter.

“Regardless of what the conditions are, ACC games are always competitive and there’s always motivation to win.’’

They’ll have to do it against a team with two of the conference’s top five scorers - Jon Scheyer (20.1 points per game) and Nolan Smith (17.8) - plus Kyle Singler (15.4).

“I don’t know if you really stop them, they’ve got people who can score,’’ Skinner said. “You’ve just got to try to keep yourself in a position to contest shots and not give a lot of open looks. That’s something you need to try to avoid. If you avoid that, then you give yourself a chance.’’

Against a Georgia Tech team that was dying to bounce back after losing to Georgia, Scheyer scored 25 points but missed 10 of 13 3-points attempts. And Singler missed 11 of his 13 shots. It was the third game in seven days for Duke, and Krzyzewski gave his players the following day off.

“They’re all human beings,’’ said Krzyzewski. “They’re not going to play well every time. We’re not immune. Our good players, just like every team, the good players have to play well.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at benbow@globe.com.