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HitMan Checks In!

Duke opened the game with some very strong play, which was further
fueled by the emotion of the crowd. Chris Carrawell, for the most part,
built an early 8-0 lead - K even designed a play for him right off the tip,
where he really took advantage of Gainey's height, or lack thereof. The
Crazies were really beginning to rock, when Herb Sendek used the first of
those fateful timeouts. This one was well placed, and it served to calm
down NC State a bit, and the battle was on. 

The Wolfpack charged back to
take the lead, and was helped out by some sloppy play and easy turnovers by
Duke. Quite a few times players simply let the ball slip through their
fingers, which was unsettling to see. Along those lines, Boozer was pulled
for a bit after he tried to pick up a loose ball standing still, rather than
diving aggressively for it. This allowed Casey Sanders to get some playing
time against a solid frontcourt. 

Casey performed admirably; working hard
on both the offensive and defensive ends. He set some nice high screens on
offense, and smartly rotated over in the low post to draw a charge on
defense, prompting a chant of "Casey Sanders" to erupt from the crowd. He
probably would have earned himself some more time if it weren't for the
close nature of the game.

The game went back and forth for most of the half, the notable
aspects being NC State's free throw shooting and the refereeing. The
latter being questionable, and the former blazing hot. That 58% figure must
have been an aberration, because they hit something like 31-37 against Wake,
and nailed all but two in the first half today. Those two misses came when
a grad student held up a sign reading, "Yur Mom is yur sister". 

As for the
referees, I thought they did a pretty bad job overall, as I saw blown calls
on both sides of the ball. From my biased standpoint, I felt more went
against Duke, but take that with a grain of salt. At one point in the game,
the crowd responded to a particularly egregious call with a chant of, "If
you can't go to State be a ref". Jason especially seemed to enjoy that
one. 

Speaking of Jason, he seemed to injure himself early in the game,
something related to a finger on his shooting hand. The training staff
immobilized it somehow, but it noticeably affecting his shooting, especially
from long range. At one point in the second half he ripped off the bandage
and threw it at the bench in disgust. 

Other than that, Chris Carrawell worked hard at keeping us in the
game, hitting for seventeen in the first half. We scored the last shot of
the half, which put us up two at the break. Once again, Coach K completely
ran the last play of the half, going so far as to verbally position players
on the floor, and tell Jason exactly when to drive the ball. This is
something I had never seen him do before this year, and I am not sure if it
was because of his hip, or because of the experience of guards like Wojo and
Avery. (Or maybe the relative lack of importance, since we were usually up
by 20).

The second half was just as close as the first. Neither team built any
substantial leads. Both had 6-7 point cushions at one point in the half,
but neither had the ability to put the game out of reach. The biggest
change from the first to the second half was that Duke did a great job
getting to the free throw line. Free throw shooting is going to win this
team more than one game down the stretch of the season. A scary moment
came when Jason had a knee-on-knee collision with a State player and emerged
limping. He sat out momentarily, but even when he returned you could see
him occasionally grimacing - which just makes me even more impressed with
the tenacious defense he provided down the stretch.

As the clock dwindled, the noise level kept increasing, and our
collective nerves began to fray. One more mental lapse came, as Boozer
broke free on an inbounds play, and Battier hit him with a home run pass.
Unfortunately, Boozer dribbled the ball off of his foot and out of bounds.
The crowd was stunned, but Jason Williams quickly raised his hands in the
air, bringing the Crazies back to life for the defensive stand. Finally,
with less than 30 seconds to go, Chris Carrawell hit a running shot off of a
spin move in the lane to put us up by one point. On the ensuing possession,
Jason played Gainey tight, and forced him to fall to the ground. Before he
traveled Gainey managed to call a timeout, but alas, NC State had long since
run out of them. The crowd was quick to call for the technical foul, and
soon after, a loud chorus of "Chris Webber" could be heard. Shane nailed
both free throws, Dunleavy was fouled on the next possession, and he also
made good on his free throws. This put us up five with around ten seconds
to go, and it seemed as if the game was all but ours.

Coach K called a quick timeout to set the defense, and a thundering
chant of "Our house, our house" echoed throughout Cameron. However, NC
State got a ridiculously quick and easy lay-up on their trip up the floor,
and Jason Williams then proceeded to fumble the inbounds pass into the
crowd. Memories of the Clemson game two years back, when Shane dropped an
inbounds to set up some tense last seconds. This gaffe provided State the
chance to go for the tie with 2.9 seconds left. Gainey got the ball, and
Coach K could clearly be seen exhorting the team to foul. Battier did so,
noticeably before the shot in my estimation, but the referee called it a
shooting foul. With the crowd at its loudest and the band members flailing
about, Gainey hit his first shot, but missed the second. We thought the
game was won (only 0.8 on the clock), and apparently so did our players,
because they neglected to concentrate on blocking out, and allowed Gainey's
purposely missed third shot to be rebounded and put in by Marshall Williams.
Shockingly, the game was now tied, and we were headed for overtime.

Thankfully, the team was able to regroup, and put their mistakes
behind them. They came out with a purpose, and controlled the overtime
period. Boozer was the real star of the endgame, converting layups,
blocking shots and playing tough defense - all with four fouls. All five
Dukies, Williams, C-Well, Battier, Boozer and Dunleavy played truly
excellent man-to-man defense. Chris Carrawell once again hit some key free
throws down the stretch, and Nate James came off the bench to ice the game
with two final free throws. A 92-88 win for the Blue Devils, preserving
both the 28 game ACC winning streak, and 44 game home winning steak.

Respect must be paid to NC State; they played a great game, despite
the outcome. Their man-to-man defense is tough to break, and their offense
is good enough to get the job done. Credit is also due to Damien Wilkins,
who showed some real promise. State really tried to get him a lot of
touches, especially in the last few minutes of the game. He forced Duke to
begin double-teaming him in the second half, a sure sign of his increasing
skill. Sendek is playing with a full deck for the first time in recent
memory, and for my money, he and his team have earned a spot in the top
twenty-five.