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Duke Downs Valpo, 104-77

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Duke beat Homer Drew's Valparaiso 104-77, as was universally expected, but not
without a gutty effort from the Crusaders before Duke finally put them away.

Valpo showed they were ready to play when they scored three seconds into the
game off the tip. They were pushed back for much of the first half,
though, as Duke's offense scored fairly easily for a while. But when the offense
sputtered, the defense didn't stop Valpo, and then the Crusaders roared back
into contention, cutting what was once an 18 point lead to nine at the
half. Valpo also outrebounded Duke in the first half 25-15.

If Duke's play seemed a bit disjointed at the end of the half, well, it's not
at all uncommon for what we call holiday games, but which we might as well call
post-exam games. After several days with no games and erratic practices
worked around unwieldy academic schedules and requirements, Duke typically plays
at less than their peak level.

Not that that cuts any mustard with Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K was
clearly irked at the lack of defensive intensity, and made his displeasure known
on several occasions, at one point yelling at Greg Paulus to "get over
here" when a Valpo player got off an easy shot.

Dan Oppland and Ron "can we skip the jokes" Howard had very solid
games for Valparaiso, with Oppland shooting 11-18 against the vaunted Duke
defense. Howard managed 9-13.

However, Mohammed Kone was limited to 18 minutes after getting into early
foul trouble, and was not much of a factor.

And despite the poor defense, Duke's offense managed some fireworks.
J.J. Redick continued to scorch the nets, following his Texas 41 with 30 against
Valpo, shooting 9-16 with five treys. For most players, going 7-9 from the
line would be a great night; for Redick, it's bound to be upsetting.

Shelden Williams ended up with 19 points and 11 boards, and at one point,
seemed to grab every board available.

Josh McRoberts, who we heard on the radio has been sick, played 24 minutes
and while he shot 4-5, didn't have a huge game. He did have one very nice
block, and keyed one brilliant sequence when he ripped a rebound away from a
Valpo player, then hit Greg Paulus cutting down the lane. Paulus flipped
the ball over to Shelden Williams for a dunk - boom, boom, boom. Gorgeous

Sean Dockery scored 14 points, grabbed four boards, and had three steals.

Lee Melchionni also rediscovered his shooting touch from the floor, and even
shooting 8-8 from the line, much better than he typically does.

Martynas Pocius played for eight minutes and fouled out.

But despite getting yelled at for poor defense, in some ways the breakout
performance of the game belonged to Greg Paulus, who racked up 15 assists.
He also played 39 minutes, more than Redick or Williams, and set a freshman
records for assists, and nearly tied Bobby Hurley's record of 16.

Pretty clearly, he's become the point guard, and just as clearly, just as
with Bobby Hurley, Coach K has decided to accept a learning curve for his
talented freshman.

And 15 assists is a pretty compelling argument. Paulus has a gift for
whipping passes into tight places and yet putting them into people's hands where
they can score. When you have J.J. Redick pressuring the perimeter and
Shelden Williams pressuring the interior, a guy who knows how to pass can have a
lot of fun.

And if Melchionni has shaken his slump, Duke is going to be really hard to
defend. With two perimeter shooters in Redick and Melchionni, and a solid
shooter in Sean Dockery, the Devils are going to be very hard to shut
down. And when DeMarcus Nelson returns, there will be a lot of options for
him as well.

But that's still a ways away. For now, Duke has to get read for St.
John's, a rugged defensive team, then Mike Dement's UNCG team, and then
Bucknell, a team which has proven to be quite dangerous since last season.
And then it's back to the ACC, with Wake Forest on January 8th. There will
likely be some tinkering, some tweaking, some new wrinkles. But our guess
is that Duke knows what it has to do to keep winning, and the holiday break, and
what is accomplished then, will go a long way towards determining the trajectory
of Duke's season.