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Duke Wins, Davidson Too

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Fayetteville

Pretty much every year, when Duke plays Davidson, we say something like this:
tough team. Smart. Well-coached. Outclassed but gutty. It's
all true again except for the outclassed part. Duke did a lot of good
things and showed a lot of good parts, but Davidson, an experienced and
tough team with less parts, had a better whole than did Duke. They were in
position to steal this game had a few things gone differently, and they would
have definitely deserved it. They were super.

For Duke, it was an odd game in many ways. First, Nick Horvath didn't dress
because of a stomach virus that pretty much kept him in the bathroom, according
to Coach K. Duke showed a lot of really good flashes in a number of areas,
but as a group, the effort was unwieldy. Let's look at the
strong points first:

  • shot-blocking. Elton Brand and Shane Battier were a great pair of
    shotblockers. Shavlik Randolph and Shelden Williams may rival
    them. Randolph had four and Williams had five. The team had 10
    collectively. Randolph is impressive because he'll try and block a
    shot anywhere. Williams is starting to show that he could be
    intimidating.
  • rebounding. Duke won the boards 45-34 despite extensive foul trouble
    and Horvath's absence.
  • Free throw shooting. 76% for the game is pretty good.
  • clutch play. Despite the strange nature of this game, when it was
    time to clamp down, Duke got it done. Davidson shaved a 19 point lead down
    to 6 and Duke ended up winning by 15.

On the negative side:

  • 19 assists to 21 turnovers.
  • Jones, Sanders, and Williams each had 4 fouls.
  • Duke continues to let the opponent get behind them on fast breaks and
    inbounds.

Mostly it's safe to say that the team issues will improve as they get to know
each other. Sean Dockery said the other day that he had never had to talk
during high school, and he wasn't completely at ease with the on-court
communication Duke insists on. The good news in this game - aside from the
gutty play when the chips were down - was in individual performances.

  • Shavlik Randolph had 17 points, 12 boards, and 4 blocks.
  • Duhon nearly had a triple double and showed remarkable poise down the
    stretch.
  • Celebrated as a shooter, J.J. Redick is turning out to be a nifty
    defender: he had five steals.
  • This game may have been a turning point for Shelden Williams, who was
    sensational at times, both offensively and defensively.
  • Casey Sanders is playing at a higher level than he has at any point in his
    career. He clearly understands the game better as a senior.
  • Ewing shot poorly but played solid defense, particularly on Davidson's
    Wayne Bernard, who he guarded a lot, particularly in the second half.
  • Sean Dockery had back-to-back layups.
  • Michael Thompson didn't play much but had a very alert shot.

Despite the herky-jerky nature of the game, and despite a particularly poor
offensive game by Dahntay Jones, Duke fans should be excited. Randolph is
emerging rapidly as an unusually gifted player. Chris Duhon looks like the
Duhon of high school, where he would hang back until needed then take the game
over. J.J. Redick was prized as a recruit, and to a large extent came to
Duke on the basis of his offensive ability, yet is a savvy defender.
Williams is beginning to assert himself. Ewing and Jones, who were both
poor offensively, will not be as poor very often. And Dockery can play
defense with anyone. There are some great parts to this puzzle.

The challenges for Duke now center around communication, scoring inside, and
keeping the other guys from scoring inside (or getting behind the
defense). It's not a coincidence that these are precisely the areas you'd
expect a young team to struggle with.

Next Duke plays UCLA, a team that quit scheduling Duke because Duke kept
thumping them. After that, it's Ohio State, and then Michigan, as the real
season starts in earnest.

Notes:

We make it a point not to criticize officials gratuitously, because first a
lot of people use them as excuses, and secondly, we sincerely think they are
doing the best they can with a very difficult job. And finally, those of
us in the stands will never know the game the way they do. They see
everyone's personalities and tendencies up close and personal...having said
that, the pace of the game was significantly affected because it was called so
tightly. The game started at 7:00; the first five minutes took 15 to
play. The job of the officials is to manage the game, not micromanage
it. At times that seemed like what was happening, and getting a good
groove going was very difficult...after scoring 21 points in the first half,
Bernard was much less effective in the second...