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Richard Ranger, Courtside For The Purdue Game!

The first half of tonight’s contest promised some bump and grind basketball and delivered. Purdue’s Boilermakers came out intending to play the lanes, make contact at the perimeter, and contest every shot. Gene Keady’s guys ended the first half with 14 fouls, but not before getting hands and sundry other body parts in front of Chris Duhon, Daniel Ewing and J.J. Redick. With Duke shooting from the perimeter thus challenged, the devils went to work inside. The first 10 minutes of the first half were among the best Shelden Williams has played. Unfortunately that was the best 10 minutes any Duke player played.

The second half became a Purdue show early on, thanks to some tenacious defense on Duhon by Purdue’s Brandon McKnight that kept the Devils out of any discernible offensive rhythm. That defensive effort was aided by Brett Buscher, and Melvin Buckley. Purdue’s defense forced a number of Duke errors in the first part of the second half that shifted the momentum in favor of the Boilermakers ­ particularly because the Purdue-caused errors were accompanied by too many unforced Duke errors. David Teague seemed to score from everywhere, including two off balance prayers. Kenneth Lowe ­ tournament MVP -- turned in a sound offensive performance, as did Chris Booker. . Purdue’s bump-and-grind led the Boilermakers to 14 first half fouls. Their halftime adjustments made a big difference ­ Duke was not into the bonus until only a few minutes were left.

Purdue found seams Duke could not keep sealed, and wore down Duke’s inside presence, despite Shelden’s valiant work in the paint. Shavlik Randolph started out with a good game inside, but then faded. Against Purdue’s muscle, Luol Deng managed to glide around defenders a couple of times for some beautiful baskets, yet too often was blocked to positions ten feet or more from the basket. Purdue did not allow Deng the looks he got against Pacific. Deng has the agility, but so far does not have the muscle for power moves to the hoop. He looked much more like a wing man tonight than he did against Pacific on Thursday. Daniel Ewing sunk a couple of three pointers, and then the Boilermakers managed to shut him down. As for J.J. ­ well, he’s had better games. Again, credit Purdue with challenging nearly all of J.J’s shots, and applying pressure that caused him to miss passes, and to force shots off the dribble. Also, far too often J.J. seemed static on “D”, missing two opportunities to slap balls from Purdue perimeter players that the other guards would not have missed. Sean Dockery gave some decent minutes in defensive relief, but did not add anything offensively. With Brandon McKnight on Duhon like whitewash on Tom Sawyer’s fence, and Ewing denied any open lanes, you could start to see things begin to unravel.

With Duke down 7, if I recall correctly, at a 5:44 timeout in the second half, I wrote a note on my score sheet that the next Duke possession would be key to reasserting some offensive momentum and flow. In Duke’s next possession, Duhon’s pass to Williams went awry, and into the base line cameramen and cheerleaders. Duke still had some opportunities after that, but all those opportunities came while looking at the wrong end of a seven-to-nine point deficit.

Purdue’s fans were either more noisy or more numerous or both. By midway through the second half, Duke’s usually reliable Alaskan Fifth Column was sitting on their hands, and so, too, it seemed, were the visiting Duke fans in their section up above the South Mezzanine. You could feel it become Purdue’s night, and then “oops” there would be another Duke pass out of bounds, and “oops” there would be another forced Duke shot, and “oops” another Purdue rebound. It was a Big Ten sort of winter night.

It’s after midnight here in Anchorage, and Catherine and I are facing a six hour winter drive back home from Anchorage to Valdez tomorrow, so I will close this and maybe add some thoughts tomorrow evening once we’re home. It was great to see the Blue Devils again. This team remains very much a work in progress. Under the category of good news: improved inside play; Luol Deng; Shelden’s emerging maturity; Shav’s emerging upside; Duhon’s improved leadership and confidence. Under the category of bad news: teams with the talent and aggression to take it to Duke at midcourt and on the perimeter will pose real challenges for this young and still developing team. And, under pressure from a well-coached Purdue team, Duke was functionally a seven man operation. The competition ramps up through December. The Devils will need to, too.