For the second game in a row, Duke played a superbly motivated opponent, and
lost to Wake Forest, 90-84.
Statistically, there wasn't a tremendous difference actually: Wake shot 50%;
Duke shot 49; Wake had 14 turnovers; Duke 15, Wake had 2 blocked shots; Duke 3;
Duke was 7-14 from three point range; Wake was 7-18.
Yet when it came down to critical plays in the second half, Wake made the
stops Duke couldn't make, and finished on their end. And just as
importantly, for the course of the game, Wake shut JJ Redick out, other than two
In 21 minutes, Redick missed five shots, hit two free throws, got an assist
and two boards.
For Duke's part, they could not stop Eric Williams at the end of the game,
and certainly not Chris Paul, who continues to play brilliantly in his freshman
year. Here's a challenge: who were the great freshmen point guards in ACC
history? Kenny Anderson? Yeah. Phil Ford? Sure. John Lucas?
Okay. Skip Wise? One-and-done, but okay. Stephon Marbury? Marginally
(the first part of his year was mediocre). Hurley was good, but not great,
as a freshman.
Chris Paul is in their company. He's a superb point guard, and UNC must
be kicking themselves, because he was reportedly open to going to UNC.
The good news, as far as there is good news, is that Duke soldiered on and
could have stolen the game if things had gone a bit differently. They did
this in spite of injuries to Shelden Williams, who we learned from ESPN has not
been practicing after his hip injury against UVa, Luol Deng, who also had a
nasty tumble in that game, and whatever happened to Daniel Ewing, who the
announcers said was hurt as he left the floor for halftime.
Williams, who struggled against State, at least partly due to State's intense
defense of interior passing lanes, came on strong against Wake, and Duke
channeled much of the offense through him. He nearly got a
double-double with 18 points and nine boards. Shelden played a gutty game,
to say the least, because Wake just pounds people inside.
Luol Deng played a solid game as well, with 20 points and 9 boards, though as
we've said before, physical teams give him problems. He had some plays
where he was inside and seemed reluctant to press the issue. Regardless,
he got some key rebounds and some big baskets. We can't wait to see what
he does after a summer of weightlifting.
Daniel Ewing was huge in the first half, but whatever the announcers were
referring to, he wasn't as potent in the second half.
All in all, you have to ask yourself what was gained and what was lost in a
match like this. Obviously the game was lost. But what matters now -
what matters all year, more than anything else at Duke - is March. This
game was a lot like a tournament game. Duke played with that level of
intensity - Wake, too - and they dealt with a lot of adversity, not least of all
Redick has become everyone's focus, and it's working to some extent.
But if the inside-outside game is working, and Ewing is on, the offense is fine.
The defense hasn't been as good as it was early, but that will be
What's been gained is an awareness of how thin Duke's margin of error
is. Don't get us wrong - if Duke plays really well, they win most games by
20 points. But the margin between winning by 20 or being in a game that
could go either way is pretty small, actually. Basically, it comes down to
a few steals, a couple of smart plays, a couple of stops. And then,
maintaining. It sounds overly easy, which is what you expect from people
who never played or coached that level of basketball, but it's also true:
the '92 or '99 team could run people out of the building. This team isn't
built like that. They'll have to do everything the right way to make it
work. When it does, it works very, very well. When it doesn't,
there's not really a Grant Hill or Elton Brand or Jason Williams to take
over. They have to do it as a group.
That's not a bad thing - it's a really good thing if you like college
basketball. But that's where this group is.
Fortunately, things slow down a bit for Duke now, with Maryland coming in on
Sunday, which means a home game with a bit of rest, which is good. Then
Valparaiso shows up on the 26th. The last road trip is to Tallahassee,
lately a dangerous spot for Duke, then Tech and UNC at home.
We're not suggesting that any of these teams are pushovers. But the
spacing is a bit better than it has been lately. Two games in eight days
gives a lot of time for the trainers to do their magic, for bruises to get
better, and for the team to come together, study the last two games, and get
ready for what's to come. And so it goes in the cutthroat world that is the ACC,
that we fans embrace above all others. It's nothing like this anywhere
else, and no one else has been able to ride the tiger like Duke. Even in a
loss, what a privilege it is to be a Duke fan.