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An ACC Classic

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Andrea Bookman |ACC Today

Video Williams | Video
| Video Carrawell | Video James

Sometimes when you go to a game which hits a higher level of passion it's
hard to understand what you've seen until some time has gone by.  We
suspect it's that way with this game.

State under Herb Sendek has seemed kind of like your annoying kid brother,
like that kid in Fox Trot. It's a good thing he's little because he's dogged and
tough, and when he grows up he's going to still be smart as hell but he's also
going to try to take you to the woodshed.

Meet State 2000.  The Pack is basically grown up now, and capable of
going toe to toe with Duke on the road, which means they can probably play with
most teams in the country, particularly with the brand of defense they

We're not sure how well this game translated to TV. The inclination is to
think that it's just ugly and mistake-ridden, but that's not the case, though
there were mistakes. The reason there were mistakes was because two sensational
defenses when at it hammer and tong, and neither could fully stop the other and
the end of the game was like the end of a Rocky movie, where both sides kept
slugging, though there was nothing much left to give.  

The result? Duke, playing six players for the most part, was exhausted at the
end, but had enough left in the tank to get the job done. State fouled more than
they might have had they not also been tired and thus lost Thornton and Grundy
to fouls.  What you saw was two defensive heavyweights pounding each
other's brains in, both with the will to win, but of course only one team can.
Duke played better defense in the overtime (and better offense, too), and so
they won the game.

This should be clear to everyone: seeing a game like this is a privilege, a
rarity. It's probably too early to tell for sure, but this game reminds us of
some absolute classics in Duke history, like the upset of UNC (was it 72?) when
they were #3 and Duke was DOA, or the raucous atmosphere in Cameron when Duke
had the first great victory under Foster, upsetting Maryland, or the UNC game
where Jeff Capel hit the running 35 footer, or the 88 tournament game which was
possibly the most brutal Duke game ever, though tonight's was close.

Jason Williams will come in for some criticism for missing the 3 point shot
he took near the end of regulation, and badly, and for losing the ball after
State scored, but we would dissent. First of all, he was the one who harassed
Justin Gainey into losing the ball and calling a timeout he didn't have. 
Secondly, and more importantly, as he delves further into the college basketball
universe, he is beginning to understand his place in the firmament.  Every
so often in a game you can see a switch go on as he realizes, "I'm better
than this guy."  He had that tonight, though Gainey, to his credit,
did a lot of things to put his team in position to win.  Nonetheless, Jason
is starting to realize that he really is more gifted than most of his opponents,
and his confidence is rising. He made some mistakes tonight, but he's a freshman
and that's what they do.  He also pounced on a senior who has been through
everything, at an absolutely critical moment, and not only made him lose his
balance but also his cool and caused a near catastrophe for State. 
Williams is growing in leaps and bounds, and you can see this mostly in his
confidence and the way he attacks his man on offense and defense. 

It's also worth mentioning that not only did Duke play a six man rotation
with short appearances by Horvath, Christensen, and Sanders, they played a six
man rotation in an overtime game with a powerful and determined foe - and did so
with three freshmen.  The commonly expressed notion that "they aren't
freshmen anymore," which is trotted out like clockwork each year by
mid-January, is crap.  Dunleavy is a freshman, and physically, he might as
well be a high school senior.  Williams is learning a new position, since
he didn't play point in high school, and Boozer lost a lot of valuable time to
his foot injury.  They are still freshmen, and from time to time they'll
play like it.  But they are playing with three guys in C-well, Battier, and
James, who have tremendous heart, and the kids are showing that they have heart

A factor worth mentioning which could use more discussion - Johnny Dawkins
designed the conditioning program that allows Duke to be in a brutal game of
attrition, and to have enough energy left to prevail.  Kudos to Johnnny for
a superb job.  He deserves enormous credit for that.

Now for the controversy: referees have a very difficult job to do. We
generally believe in cutting them slack as much as possible, as we think they
all do their jobs to the best of their ability and God knows we could never do
it.  As a policy we only comment on officiating when the play in question
affects the outcome.  In the case of the Battier foul on Gainey, Battier
was clearly trying to foul Gainey so he couldn't get off a three point shot.
Just because he managed to throw the ball after he was fouled doesn't mean it
was a three shot foul. There's no continuance in college hoops.  After
that, when he missed deliberately, we haven't seen it yet but we understand that
Kenny Inge fouled Battier, thus allowing Williams to score the tying
basket.  We were told that by someone we respect, and to be clear, we
haven't seen it, but if that's correct then that compounded the original
error.  Now one could make the argument that Battier should have been
called for an intentional foul, which it clearly was, but that's different.

In a game like this, it's hard to discuss anyone individually, but Duke fans
should treasure each game Chris Carrawell has left.  What he's accomplished
at Duke is fairly unique, and he's gone from being a nifty utility player to
being a star, likely ACC Player Of The Year, and a serious candidate for the
Wooden Award.  Once you start talking about individuals, though, you have
to talk about Boozer's play, and Battier's, and Nate James' fire and on and on
and on.  The problem with that, of course, is that it's a team game, and
especially a game like tonight's takes a team effort to succeed. Both teams
responded with everything they had, and the game lived up to the finest
traditions of the ACC, Cameron, Reynolds, Krzyzewski, Case, Sloan, Bubas,
Valvano, and all of it.  What a great game. We felt privileged to witness
it, and to see the coming of age of a revitalized NC State. It's been too long.

Notes - Duke, State, and UVa are all now solid bets for the NCAA...UNC,
Maryland, and Wake will determine their own fates...Clemson, FSU and Tech are
almost certainly not going, though Tech theoretically could get hot or win the
tourney or could see people, even State fans, smiling when they
left, knowing they'd seen a great one...Duke is now solidly in control of first
place....Boozer's athleticism has really come on in a serious way...his block of
Wilkins was dramatic..yet at one point Coach K pulled him immediately,
apparently for not chasing a loose ball...lesson learned....