Depth-challenged Duke focused on toughness

DURHAM, N.C. -- Even with a rash of injured players often dominating the conversation about Duke's basketball team for the first few weeks of the season, there's another identity that's more relevant for coach Mike Krzyzewski in describing the Blue Devils.

"I have tough kids," Krzyzewski said. "I have really tough kids."

That's what the No. 5 Blue Devils have been counting on as they've rung up a 7-1 record. Only six players were used in Tuesday night's victory against Michigan State.

"Playing six guys is never going to be easy," fifth-year senior forward Amile Jefferson said. "But guys have to always be tough."

A deeper bench is likely to be in use Saturday when Duke wraps up a four-game homestand by taking on Maine (2-5) at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Krzyzewski said with Jefferson and guards Matt Jones and Grayson Allen there are enough veteran players to help the Blue Devils through rough patches.

"They've been in big-time games," Krzyzewski said. "They've had adversity. ... They've earned it. It is not inherited wealth, let's put it that way. It's stuff they've earned."

Playing with grit is something that's endearing in some ways for the Blue Devils.

"We have this inner toughness," Jefferson said. "A toughness of the heart and the spirit more than physical. Our guys have always come ready to play."

Duke owns a five-game winning streak, but Jones said the 78-69 victory against Michigan State was particularly satisfying because the Blue Devils had to dig deep.

"I think we're growing as a team, especially winning that game," he said. "It's definitely a confidence booster. We just have to keep it going."

Jones received rave reviews after the last game from Krzyzewski because of his defense. The effort on the defensive end was needed because Jones ended up with just two points for his first time short of double figures this season.

It became Duke's first game this season without five players in double-digit scoring.

Maine is coming off an 82-61 home loss to Central Connecticut State on Wednesday night. That opponent has the Blue Devils nickname as well -- yet with the game attracting an announced attendance of 836 it means Saturday's game should result in a drastically different setting for the Black Bears.

This will be Maine's second visit to an Atlantic Coast Conference campus this season after an 80-67 loss for last month's opener at Virginia Tech.

The Black Bears, who'll face Duke for the first time, were picked to finish last in the America East preseason poll. That didn't sit well with third-year coach Bob Walsh.

"The truth is, it bothers me," Walsh said. "It bothers our players. But that is a good thing. All Black Bear programs show up with something to prove when we play, with a pride and toughness that is evident.

"The great thing about competition is we get to play the games and the results speak for themselves."

Black Bears freshman forward Andrew Fleming, who was the top high school player in Maine last season, posted a season-best 20 points in the team's last outing.
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