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Blue Devils’ tailspin gets worse with loss to Tar Heels

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Since losing to Virginia and beating Notre Dame, Duke has played two games away from Cameron Indoor Stadium and lost both despite being up by double digits in the first half to both St. John’s and North Carolina.

The game Saturday at Madison Square Garden against St. John’s should have been an easy one, although the Red Storm had previously given other Top 10 opponents (Villanova and Xavier) trouble. While the then No. 4 Blue Devils didn’t take them lightly, long stretches without a basket when the offense became bogged down were too much for Duke’s sloppy defense to overcome.

At UNC on Thursday night, in the first episode of the heated Tobacco Road rivalry series, Duke was up by 12 points halfway through the first half before allowing a long run by the Tar Heels sandwiched around halftime. Despite pulling the No. 21 Tar Heels’ lead back to within three points, the No. 9 Blue Devils, the second-youngest team in NCAA Division I, were unable to come all the way back in the 82-78 loss.

Now Duke is reeling having lost three of its last four games with road games at Georgia Tech (Sunday night) and Clemson (Sunday, Feb. 18) sandwiched around a home game against Virginia Tech on Wednesday, Feb. 14.

RACE FOR A DOUBLE BYE

Before the loss to Virginia on Jan. 27, Duke was in a great position to either land the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament or certainly finish in the top four in the league and not have to play in the first two rounds of the tournament in Brooklyn next month. Now, after dropping games to both UVA and UNC, Mike Krzyzewski’s squad is in third place with four conference losses. The Blue Devils have little to no shot to overcome undefeated Virginia to gain the first seed unless everything breaks their way. Virginia would need to lose five conference games of their final six for Duke to even have a chance.

DEFENSE CONTINUES TO STRUGGLE

After solid performances against the dregs of the conference, Duke’s defense has regressed back to its earlier struggling periods that saw them lose games to Boston College and N.C. State at the beginning of conference play. Whether it’s giving up open 3-point looks that competent opponents knock down or not being able to force turnovers, Duke’s once-vaunted defense has shown no signs of stopping opponents.

TOP RECRUIT SET TO VISIT

The No. 12-ranked player in the country per the 247Sports Composite Rankings, power forward EJ Montgomery of Marietta, Georgia, will take an unofficial visit to Duke on Sunday when the Blue Devils take on Georgia Tech. The Duke coaches are hoping to pair him with their other five-star commits (small forward R.J. Barrett, small forward Cameron Reddish, power forward Zion Williamson and point guard Tre Jones) for one of, if not the, best recruiting classes of all time.

FOOTBALL NEWS

After hosting him for an official visit the weekend before signing day this past Wednesday, three-star cornerback Kendrick Torain (Tampa, Florida) verbally committed to be a part of #DukeGang18 and then signed his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday with the rest of the class. Duke’s class ranking was ultimately below normal, coming in at No. 61 nationally and 12th in the ACC. However, part of the reason for the low rankings was the small size of the class, just 16 signees compared to nearly 20 or 25 for most other schools.

After losing defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to Oklahoma State of the Big 12 Conference, Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe is taking his time naming a replacement. The expectation is that assistant defensive coordinator Ben Albert will get the promotion, but Cutcliffe will then need to add another linebackers coach to take over that responsibility from Knowles now that he has departed. Look for a resolution in the search this upcoming week, if not into the following week.

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