No. 5 Duke hosts struggling Panthers looking for fourth straight win

January 20, 2018 GMT

Duke has made improvements recently, but the Blue Devils cannot expect a better result against Pittsburgh on Saturday (4 p.m., 620 AM The Buzz) in Durham, N.C., than they had the first time the teams met.

No. 5 Duke (16-2, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won three games in a row.

“We are only going to get better from here,” freshman Marvin Bagley said since the Blue Devils pulled off a riveting comeback victory against Miami earlier in the week. “Every day we’re trying to get better as a team and we’re growing together.”

The Blue Devils’ latest winning streak began against Pittsburgh. Duke defeated the Panthers 87-52 less than two weeks ago at Pittsburgh.

In the two games since then, freshman guard Gary Trent Jr. has given the Blue Devils a lift with his shooting. He drilled six 3-point baskets in each of those games.

“My teammates (are) finding me,” Trent said. “Coach (Mike Krzyzewski) is drawing up great plays. Everything is coming together for me at the right time and just doing my job, what I’m supposed to do.”

The six 3s in a game ties a Duke freshman record that was achieved nine times before Trent did it this season.

With Trent hitting the 30-point mark against Miami, it was the seventh time a Blue Devil hit that plateau this season. No other ACC team has more than two.

Trent said the Blue Devils would like to reduce the number of times they have to make comebacks, though. While they like the fact that they’ve shown that resiliency in several games this season, it’s not the preferred route to winning.

“We continue playing our game, trust what (Krzyzewski) told us and trust each other,” Trent said. ”(Against Miami), he emphasized playing tough, playing hard and getting rebounds and everything would take care of itself and it did.”

Bagley said the ability to refocus has been crucial in several games after stretches when things haven’t gone well.

“We calmed down and came back in and took a deep breath and did what we know that we’re capable of doing,” Bagley said.

Last-place Pittsburgh (8-11, 0-6) has struggled, using an all-freshman lineup at times.

“We’re a group that sometimes it feels like we’re growing rapidly and sometimes it seems like it’s slowing down a little bit,” Panthers coach Kevin Stallings said.

The Panthers have lost six in a row, and that streak could be taxing.

“Players need to have success in order for their confidence to grow,” Stallings said. “We’re in search of trying to knock that door down, if you will. We’re in need of some positive mojo to build on.”

While Duke has displayed a strong interior presence this season, it’s just the opposite for Pittsburgh.

“We have yet to establish the inside game that we need to create some easy baskets,” Stallings said. “That puts a lot of pressure on your perimeter shooters.”

Pittsburgh has reached the 60-point mark only once in ACC play. The Panthers are coming off a season-low point total in Tuesday night’s 59-45 setback at Syracuse.

“We’re prone to go through some scoring droughts,” Stallings said.