Might as well get the obvious out of the way first: did he do it on purpose or not?In case you somehow aren't aware of who or what we're talking about, in the closing seconds of the UNC game, Gerald Henderson flew into the lane and ended up hitting Tyler Hansbrough in the face (with his elbow) and giving him a bloody nose. Hansbrough fortunately is reportedly fine; Henderson was charged with a flagrant foul and has been automatically suspended for the opening game in the ACC Tournament.
So was it intentional? We don't think so, and here's why.
It was more or less a broken play, if you will, when Henderson arrived. Walk-on freshman Steve Johnson had contested the shot and he and Hansbrough were significantly tangled. Hansbrough's momentum was broken.
Henderson came in from the left side of the court (as TV showed it to us), with his arm up. As he drew closer to Hansbrough, he turned his face. His elbow then came down on Hansbrough's face as he descended and a bit of chaos ensued.
Now try this: decide you are going to attack someone. You jump into the air (pretend you can jump as high as Henderson for a minute). Ask yourself two questions: if you are going to try to hit someone, would you get more of an impact with your arm extended or close to your body? And second, can you decide to jump, drop your elbow on someone's nose, turn your head and still do it? It just doesn't make sense.
It would be almost impossible to plan what happened, and it would be very difficult to pull it off if you did. Premeditation under these circumstances is illogical, as Mr. Spock would tell us.
Finally, after you look at the actual events, you have to consider the person. Gerald Henderson has never shown the slightest sign of being a dirty player. If anything, Duke has been frustrated because he's been perceived as being somewhat soft. He started the season well behind several teammates because he was not a particularly aggressive (or effective) defender.
His talent has shown through late in the season, but Henderson is a product of his environment: he's a suburban kid who has had to adjust to the intensity of college basketball. His original ambition was to be a golfer. He's about the least likely guy on Duke's team to do something unntoward.
The foul has overshadowed the rest of the game, as we said. Duke did not play particularly well. Henderson was one of Duke's two truly effective players, along with Greg Paulus. Henderson has really started to come on in recent games and has shown his considerable potential. And while Paulus has gotten considerable criticism this year, he has also shown a willingness to step up and take responsibility for leading his team. As everyone seems to agree, he's not the world's greatest athlete, but he's tough-minded and willing to put himself on the line in every sense. No one was willing to say this earlier, but it's hard not to now: thank God for Paulus.
Josh McRoberts didn't have his best game, which was unfortunate. He ended up with nine points and 10 boards, but only took seven shots. Duke could have used more aggressiveness from him.
DeMarcus Nelson and Jon Scheyer combined to go 8-23. Dave McClure had a pretty poor game, with minimal impact.
All four of those guys are capable of much more. Duke was more passive than they normally are, and only went to the line 16 times to UNC's 27.
UNC clearly was the better team Saturday and deserved the win. Duke played like a young, uncertain team all too often.
After the game, Coach K said that even though you might not think it, after losing to UNC and Maryland, Duke was still improving even though it was hard to tell against two superior opponents. He's a pretty perceptive guy, and we'll see how that plays out against State in the ACC Tournament.