Beating Xavier was no day at the beach: the Musketeers gave Duke all it
wanted, and then some, before Duke pulled away late to win 66-63.
Duke won because they played great defense, particularly Chris Duhon, and
because they made the critical plays at the end.
There were two major factors, one of which we saw, and one which we
didn't. The one we saw was when Xavier center Anthony Myles fouled out
with 12 1/2 minutes to go. The one no one outside the locker room saw was
when Luol Deng stood up at halftime, highly emotional according to Coach K, and
challenged his teammates to basically leave no questions about their
Going into the game, we were very wary of Xavier's guards, but as Coach K
said, he just put Duhon on whoever was hot and then they weren't hot
anymore. Xavier's outstanding guards shot a combined 8-26. Romain
Santo, who seemed like a match-up dilemma, was held to 10 points - six from the
Still, there was a point in the second half when Xavier was playing well,
Duke had piled up fouls, particularly on Deng and Williams, and we worried that
they would be gone late, and Xavier could win the game in the last three
Their defense was just about as good as Duke's: a number of players
rushed shots and for a few minutes, it looked as if things might break down into
one-on-one moves, which was a problem for Duke earlier in the year. But
that didn't happen.
Duke hung together, and at hte end of the game, when the score was tied
56-56, Deng grabbed a rebound at about the three minute mark and hit JJ Redick
for an open three. Then Deng tipped in a miss for a five point lead and an
advantage Duke would never relinquish. From there it was a question of
hitting free throws and defense, and Duke did both.
The stats in this game were really close in a number of respects. Rebounds
were almost dead even at 40-39, with Xavier having a 16-10 edge
offensively. Turnovers were 10 for Xavier and 11 for Duke. Duke shot 16-20
from the line; Xavier was 16-23. Duke shot 38.9% from the field; Xavier
shot 34.9%. Duke shot 40% from three point range; Xavier 20%. This
is where the stats really diverge: Duke hit 8-18; Xavier 3-15. Another sharp
divergence: Duke blocked seven shots; Xavier, none.
Generally speaking, this game was an intense defensive struggle, which is why
it seemed at times to lack a rhythm. Duke just played it a little better
than Xavier did.
And a word or two about Xavier: of teams which were left, we would have least
regretted losing to them. They are an honorable program, tough, decent kids, and
they play with an extraordinary passion.
After the game, too, they refused to play the game which some schools play
when they lose. Dedrick Finn said "it seemed like there were six of
them out there," and Anthony Myles, when asked if he thought Duke got any
breaks, said, "I can't say that. They earned their breaks."
So did Xavier. They've sort of been under the radar nationally, but
we've had an appreciation for their program for a long time. When Pete
Gillen was running things there, Sports Illustrated ran a great profile of the
nun who manages (or at least used to) the academic support program. They
were all half in fear and half in awe of her, and it was clear that Xavier
tolerated absolutely no erosion of their academic mission.
We've followed them from a distance since then, and have admired them
greatly. Sunday's game just reinforced that admiration. Their fans
and everyone involved in the program should be immensely proud. They lost
the game, but their character got them to within a sniff of the Final
Four. It won't be the last time these kids are successful.