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Mike Krzyzewski asks Duke fans to ‘cut out’ criticism of Barrett, freshmen

Maui Invitational - Auburn Tigers v Duke Blue Devils

LAHAINA, HI - NOVEMBER 20: RJ Barrett #5 of the Duke Blue Devils dunks the ball off the fast break during the second half of the game against the Auburn Tigers at the Lahaina Civic Center on November 20, 2018 in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

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Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski asked Duke fans to dial back the expectations surrounding his team in the wake of No. 3 Duke’s first loss of the season.

“Let’s get real about this whole thing,” Krzyzewski said after Duke’s 90-69 win over Indiana in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday. He was referencing the reaction to the way Duke lost to now-No. 1 Gonzaga last Wednesday, in which Duke struggled for the first 32 minutes and star freshman R.J. Barrett missed four potential game-tying shots in the final 30 seconds. “Let’s not get spoiled. We’ve got four 19 year old kids that are busting their ass trying to learn how to play and have a lot of pressure on them.”

The Blue Devils have four top 12 recruits on their roster, including three of the top five players in the class and, potentially, the top three picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. As talented as they are, it is evident at times that this is a group of kids that are still learning how to play.

Barrett has taken more criticism than anyone, including from myself. He’s been Duke’s go-to guy this season, but he hasn’t been all that efficient in doing so. He missed 74 shots this season, entering Tuesday night. Zion Williamson had attempted just 75. Barrett was 9-for-18 from the floor for 22 points against Indiana. Williamson went for 25 points on 11-for-15 shooting to go along with six boards, four assists, two steals and two blocks.

“And Duke fans, just cut it out, man,” he said. “These kids aren’t perfect. My kid wasn’t playing hero’s ball. He was playing winner’s ball.”

“I’ll go to war with my guys. He had the heart to do that, Jack [White] had the heart to get the rebound. We lose, I’ll lose with them.”

Krzyzewski is right about this, too, and it’s something we talked about on the Monday Overreactions podcast this week.

We applaud guys like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan for demanding the ball and taking the biggest shot of every game. We rip LeBron James when he makes the right read to get a teammate an open look. What is different about this situation?

I like that Barrett tried to takeover and win the game. As he gets older, as he learns, he’ll realize the right play was to give the ball up once he drew two and three defenders.

Such is life when you build around star freshmen.