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Oklahoma Sooner, Duke Later, 78-67

H-S | N&O
| N-R
Whenever Duke has a rotten first half, we always joke about what happens in
the locker room, figuring that it can't be pretty. No doubt that's true
sometimes, but you can't just ride people and get results. So after the
first two blown plays of the second half, after Duke started suddenly playing
well, we wondered: what did Coach K say that he didn't get across at halftime?

Turns out it was simple: "I just said, 'It is time for us to be men right now or just be run out of the gym,' "
Coach K said after the game. After an awful first half, Duke turned in a
superb second half, outscoring the Sooners 49-28 and pulling away to win 78-67.

The first half really was bad. After a nice beginning, with aggressive
defense and some nice passes, Oklahoma's effort totally outclassed Duke's.
They were much more aggressive than Duke was and played with more passion.

The pattern Duke has followed all season, of typically poor first half play
followed by a much better second half continues.

There were some solid signs though, despite the impression of near disaster:
Kevin Bookout was limited to six shots for the game, Drew Lavender shot only 30%
from the floor, and Terrell Everett launched 17 shots but made only five.

You could argue that only Taj Gray had a solid overall offensive game. Gray
had 12 boards, but no one else got more than than three.

Still, Oklahoma came a lot closer to their potential in the first half than
did Duke.

After Krzyzewski's calm assessment, though, it was clear that at this point
in the season, anyway, Duke's potential is much higher than Oklahoma's.
The Devils really took it to the Sooners, harassing them on defense, controlling
the boards, intimidating shooters, and applying constant pressure.

There were stretches in the second half when Lavender didn't control the ball
and when Gray couldn't get it. And that pretty much took care of
Oklahoma's offense.

For Duke, the second-half offense was a vast improvement. Led by J.J.
Redick, who scored 19 in the second half, and by Shelden Williams, who Billy
Packer called perhaps the best big man in the country currently, Duke shot 61.5%
from the floor in the second half.

Duke's perimeter game has really solidified. Daniel Ewing, who was such
a nice surprise as a freshman, and so reliable as a sophomore and junior, has
emerged as a guy who is willing to take pressure shots and who is pretty
cutthroat to boot: a great Duke senior, in other words.

But just as importantly, Sean Dockery has become a real presence in the
backcourt, capable as always of being a hugely disruptive defender. But
he's also becoming an effective scorer, and a guy who can work in the flow of
the offense.

And now DeMarcus Nelson has emerged as a very different sort of a guard, a
power guard, if you will. He's tall enough at 6-4 to play some up front,
and he's powerful enough to go up against guys who are bigger. In the last
few games, he's emerged as (at this point) a better rebounder than Shavlik
Randolph, and a unique presence for Duke. Jason Williams was capable of
rebounding, and he was incredibly strong, but he was a much smaller player who
relied a lot more on quickness. William Avery had some of the same
qualities but was also shorter. We can't really remember anyone off the
top of our heads at Duke who brought a similar package of skills. You
might have to go back to Jeff Mullins.

The flipside of his emergence is the question of Shavlik Randolph. At
the end of last season, his play skyrocketed, and he became a real force.
So far this season, he hasn't gotten back to that. At times it could be a
question of matchups - Williams takes the post players, and Randolph gets the
power forward. In today's game, that usually means a 6-6 or 6-7 player.
Twenty years ago, Williams would have been the power forward, and he would have
played against centers like Ralph Sampson and Sam Perkins (and forwards like
James Worthy, Buck Williams, and Len Bias).

We don't know if that's it or not, and there's surely a lot of
speculation. But when we watched the game a second time, despite his near
whiff statistically, we saw some nice things out of Shavlik. He's playing
hard, he's hustling, he's going after blocks - there was one gorgeous play where
he blindsided someone by coming up from behind, a skill he has developed to a
fine art - and he got his hands on a lot of balls.

He's still having problems being assertive with the ball down low, and that's
a real issue. On one occasion, he got the ball down near the basket and
went up, but not straight up. That's puzzling, because he jumps well, he's
agile, and he can do a lot of neat stuff.

We don't know what's going on, but our guess is it may just be a confidence
thing, and maybe two weeks of intense practice will straighten it out.

What we do know is that despite being undefeated, Duke could sure use more of
what Shavlik can bring. He's at times a superb defender, he's long enough
to rebound with anyone. Maybe it's just muscle. Some guys take
longer to grow into their bodies, like that 7-3 kid from Kentucky. Have
you guys watched him? He's going to be a holy terror soon. He's
still really gawky, but he can be two players away and almost block a shot.

But back to Duke. With a short break for Christmas aside, it's back to
the lab for Coach K. Expect a lot of intense work and tinkering, and
Shavlik may be the focus of a lot of that.