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One For The Thumb! Duke 84 NC State 77

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Before we get into Duke's win, can we take a minute and consider what State has
accomplished? After starting the season with a devastating injury to Ilian Evtimov,
who was the key to their very cool offense, the Pack took a while to adjust - like a good
bit of the season. Nonetheless, in the last stretch, they have adapted their personnel to
the offense, played Duke, Maryland and Wake on their levels, gone to the ACC title game
for the second year in a row and earned a repeat trip to the NCAAs. With everyone
returning next year except Cliff Crawford, it's safe to say that State has arrived.
If they had had a bit more depth in Greensboro, they might have won. They
deserve immense respect for what they have done, because it's impressive and doubly so
because of Evtimov's absence.

On the other hand, Duke deserves a huge amount of credit. Just last week, Duke
fans - a distinct minority, but some of you - were losing it. No one favored
Duke in this tournament. Yet even in the face of near disaster, they found the
intestinal fortitude to fight back against State and won a game that to many teams might
have seemed out of reach.

Obviously the big news was JJ Redick's late pyrotechnics. When he gets on a roll,
it's amazing to watch, and what's really exciting is that he seems to have a flair for the
dramatic. We're not saying he's Christain Laettner or anything, but this is not the
first time this year that he's shown, as Howard Cosell might have said, a proclivity for
the limelight, an irrepressible urge to be fearless in the face of possible athletic
mortality! We miss Cosell - what a nut he was.

He's an amazing guy when he gets it going, and even though State was game and
determined, they were in serious foul trouble and exhausted at the end with basically a
six-man rotation, and Redick basically broke their back.

After a lengthy offensive drought in the second half, and a fifteen point deficit, we
were starting to think that State's defense was going to carry the day. And with a
sensational performance by Josh Powell and solid performances by Julius Hodge, and Marcus
Melvin, State no doubt thought so too.

For Duke, despite a number of imperfections in the games in Greensboro, it was a
weekend of revelations. Aside from Redick's heroics, Daniel Ewing pushed himself to
the fore as a guy who can take over and carry the team. At times, Shelden Williams,
Casey Sanders, and Dahntay Jones absolutely overwhelmed opponents and put on a physical
display that was periodically incredible. Chris Duhon showed more of a willingness
to take it to the defense, which is really critical. And while it's not as
noticeable, Nick Horvath has elevated his game a great deal. We said this earlier,
but when you have a guy who comes in and doesn't just fill in but excels in his minutes,
well, that guy is incredibly valuable. Horvath has done something significant in
every single game in Greensboro. Sunday, for instance, he had a key tip-in when
Ewing missed a layup with the game still very close. The kid has completely remade
his game, he's put the team's needs ahead of his own desires, and he's become tough as
nails. We love what he's doing for this team.

If you want to sum up Nick Horvath at this point, he's probably come closer to his
potential than anyone on the team. The potential for, say, Shelden Williams or JJ
Redick is probaby inherently higher, but Horvath has busted his ass for four years, and
it's really paying off.

It was a lot of fun, too, to see Casey Sanders excel on Saturday, having perhaps his
best game at Duke, and Daniel Ewing's explosion on Friday was memorable, to say the least.

After the title, Coach K said he hoped Ewing had some idea of what he accomplished with
his star turn and ACC Tournament MVP honor.. What we've always said about Ewing we
still maintain: the kid is a winner, and we don't mean the trite sports cliche. Just
that simply his teams win, he expects to win, and he plays to win, and we're lucky he's on
our side.

After the game, Coach K, responding to a press conference question, said that this was
an important weekend not for this year but for the next several years: Duke's young
players found a way to win in three very tough games (UNC wasn't as tough, but it was
still UNC), and the payoff down the road will be huge.

After the game, we listened to Herb Sendek on the radio, and we weren't sure but it
sounded as if he were crying. It's understandable. He has a magnificent team
with heart and soul and, as his dorky slogan has it, one heartbeat. Again, hats off
to State for a wonderful game and season, and for pushing their way back into the ACC
elite. It's been a long time coming, and we hope they stick around for years.
Welcome back, Pack.