If there's a negative to take away from the Albany game - and there aren't many - it's that Duke let Albany score 70 points. That's partly because Duke's defense wasn't as sharp as it has been at times this season, and partly because Albany is a very well-coached team, and they played well against a much more talented opponent.That's about it for negatives. Post-exam games are usually somewhat dreary by the standards of college basketball. Everyone is a bit off and out of sorts, and offenses typically start slow.
Not this time. Led by DeMarcus Nelson, who shot 6-7 and got to the foul line 13 times (with a less impressive 7-13), Duke came out on fire and shot 60.3% for the game. Yowza!
One of the fun things about watching this team is that you never know who is going to go off. So while Nelson went off, Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson had relatively quiet games, finishing with eight points each. But Greg Paulus shot 4-5, with three threes tossed in. Brian Zoubek, starting for the injured Lance Thomas (who may not play against Pitt), ended up with 13 points and seven boards. He will never be a leaper, but he can be a force, and pretty clearly, Coach K wanted him involved, obviously for the long term as well as for the Pitt game.
He did pick up 4 fouls in 20 minutes, continuing an unfortunate trend.
But this team has enough in the tank to get 18 off the bench from Jon Scheyer and 17 from Taylor King. Nolan Smith chipped in with eight and Dave McClure had five. More importantly, he played 20 minutes. He was superb at times last season, and Duke really lost something after he got injured. They'll gain a lot when he gets fully back. McClure is just a smart basketball player. Some guys just have a knack of being in the right place. He's not going to be like Taylor King, launching threes like they were candy, but he manages to find his spots and gets a lot of points off of tip-ins, smart cuts, and moving to where the ball is going to be. This is an easy skill if you are following passes; it's a bit more advanced when you can do it with rebounds. McClure has that knack, and he can really help this team. In fact, he could work his way into the starting lineup at times. Right now, Singler, Nelson, Paulus and Henderson are pretty much locks to start, but over the years, K has cracked the whip and sat guys down to motivate them. If he does that to Henderson, Singler, or Thomas, McClure could step in and provide a different skill set and perspective.
No matter how you slice it, though, the bench is as good as Duke has seen for some time. And it's fun, too. Check out this quote from Coach Brown: "King--- I watched him on film get a rebound right under the basket and have a wide-open layup and I watched him--- some of you guys probably saw this--- dribble it out to the three-point line and all in one motion turn and shoot a fade-away and just start running back like he knew it was going in and sure enough it went in."
That reminds us of the hilariously audacious shot Dennis Scott took against LSU in the NCAA Tournament way back when: he had an easy shot and instead of going closer to the basket, he stepped back and popped. Drained it, too. It might even have been on a break. It was just funny, and impressive, to watch someone with that level of confidence. King isn't that reliable yet, but he's every bit as confident.
After the game, Coach K pointed out the challenges of games during and after exams, saying that with everyone focused on the individual demands of schoolwork, communication was almost inevitably lessened. Coach Brown, though, was very impressed by that, saying "One of the things thatâs a weakness of ours that I noticed about Duke that impressed me as well is communication. On both ends of the floor they do a tremendous job of communicating, talking to each other. Itâs tough enough to get your team to talk defensively but they do it consistently on both ends and itâs quite impressive."
Next up of course is Pitt, in the Garden. It's a glamour game, and a very tough matchup with a well-coached, passionate team. Pitt has left behind a long tradition of underachievement and has become a real force. If Lance Thomas can't play, Duke could have a tough time with DeJuan Blair, who presents some big matchup problems.
As for New York and Duke's traditions there, you can read more in Jim Sumner's latest column.