Box | ESPN
| H-S | W-S
Teams like Duke schedule teams like NC A&T after exams and over holidays
for a couple of reasons: first, because they expect a bumpy effort after having
focused so intensely on school for a few days, and secondly, because it is a
time when an upset could easily occur. So teams like A&T are scheduled
for what amounts to a glorified scrimmage. Still, it's an opportunity to accomplish
some things. Unfortunately for Duke, that opportunity was largely squandered.
Although there was no realistic hope for A&T to win the game - they are
winless thus far this season, and when can you remember Duke playing two
0-for-the-year teams back-to-back (Michigan has since won, happily)?
Nonetheless, for a significant part of the first half, the Aggies outplayed
Duke. Worse, Duke's inside guys just didn't show up for most of the game.
The only bright spot was offensive rebounding (a 28-14 advantage), but that was
grossly inflated because Duke missed so many shots that shouldn't have been
missed. Krzyzewski started Casey Sanders and Shelden Williams
tonight, and the pair combined for 2-9. Horvath was 2-6, and Randolph was
3-9. Michael Thompson did manage to go 2-3.
Keep in mind this is against A&T, a team which is not just a step down
(ok, two or three steps down) from Duke's level, but a team which is always also
Krzyzewski noticed. After sitting quietly for the first part of the
game, which saw A&T build a significant lead, he called a timeout and ripped
into the team. At halftime, he had a few more things to say, and then sent
out a team of guards to kick things off after intermission - Melchionni, at 6-6,
was the tallest player.
It's not that there weren't positives. Duke forced 28 turnovers, got 45 foul
shots (and made 33), outrebounded A&T by 20 (52-32), and scored 91 points
while only having two players in double figures.
On the other hand, though, this is probably the only game in Chris Duhon's
career where he registered no assists (Duke had only 10 for the game), and Duke
shot only .38% against a truly wretched opponent.
You hear a lot of announcers say things like "Duke is Duke," and
usually that's after Duke has stuck it to someone in a major way. But what
does that mean? Well, to us what it means is that day in and day out, excellence
is pursued and passion registered. In this game, those things fell off the
chart. We remember a UNC fan posting on a board, maybe after the Penn
State NCAA loss, saying that he suddenly understood why Duke never let up on an
opponent, even when they were up by 50 points. The same effort was there
throughout the game, regardless of opponent or situation, and that was why Duke
Over the next two days, unless we miss our mark and completely misunderstand
the program, this team's desire for those things, individually and
collectively, will be tested severely in practice. When they come
back from the Chrismas break, the lessons will be revisited, and good thing,
too: though a lot of casual fans don't realize it, Dayton, Duke's next opponent,
is no day at the beach. The Flyers are well coached, mentally tough, and
compete in a wonderful conference (A-10). If Duke comes to that game with no
inside presence and shooting 38% and not passing the ball, they'll lose.
The other thing to bear in mind after this game is this: as poorly as the big
men played, everything is now on the table. Whoever steps up over the next
couple of weeks has an enormous opportunity. And while the coaching staff is no
doubt disturbed and disappointed, seeing your players in this light is also an
opportunity. We won't see what happens in practice, and we won't know who
goes home and gets up early on Christmas morning to run wind sprints or jump
rope or do drills, but someone in practice will step up, and someone over the
holidays will push their commitment even higher. You could argue that a
game like this, properly understood and applied, could be worth a Sweet 16 win,
and possibly more. A lot depends, though, on what happens between now and
the end of the month, and that happens in the hearts and souls of these young
men. We'll see what they're made of soon enough. This opportunity was lost, but
a lot of positives can come out of that failure.