It's entirely possible that when we look back on this season that Temple may have been a turning point.
Duke faced significant adversity in this game with their two primary post players, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek, both out. Thomas had a respiratory illness, and Zoubek reinjured his foot, although he did not break it, as previously reported, and can apparently play again as soon as he can tolerate it, which could be within 1-3 weeks.
In spite of these absences, Duke gave Temple fits, especially in the first half, when they held them to 7-27 shooting and harassed the Owls into multiple turnovers.Â In fact, the Owls only got one shot off in their first several trips downcourt.Â They launched one about two minutes in and the second came at the 16:15 mark.
Duke could have done some real damage if they were shooting any better themselves, but it took a while to get going in the first half. But Duke did, and Temple didn't. Duke had a 17 point lead and took a 16 point advantage to the locker room.
Among the good things in the first half was the re-emergence of Dave McClure.Â We've thought all season that this team could use his steadiness and his willingness to subordinate himself to a greater purpose.Â It's nice to see his savvy again - the smart passes, the intelligent positioning on the court, the ability to see (if not actually be) a step ahead of everyone.Â He's going to be a big asset.
One of Duke's other big assets was the play of Nolan Smith, who is starting to play like a guy who's been around or awhile.
DeMarcus Nelson didn't shoot well, but otherwise, the captain continues to provide excellent leadership.Â His nine boards were huge in this game, given Duke's lack of inside power.Â And while Greg Paulus had a quieter game than usual in some respects, he was steady and minimized mistakes. And between them, the two players were 14-15 from the line.Â Taylor King and Jon Scheyer came off the bench to provide 15 and 10 points respectively.
Yet despite Duke's very solid first half, they nearly let Temple back into it in the second, when they went a full eight minutes without scoring.Â This has happened a few times in the last couple of years as a young team had to find its bearings. Watching Temple start to rally, you had a slow, painful idea of what might be about to happen.
Anyone who has played playground ball knows that when you lose enough, there comes a point where you just have to try harder, that losing over and over again gets old quickly. Duke hasn't had that much trouble, of course, but the spot it was in was much like the Pitt game.
But this time, Duke had answers.Â After the eight minute gap, Kyle Singler hit a pair of free throws and then Henderson hit a driving layup to push the lead back up and the game out of reach.
For a young team playing through adversity on the road, that was huge and very impressive.
On Sunday, the real deal starts, with Virginia visiting Cameron.Â Virginia hasn't been tremendously impressive thus far, but they would love to stick it to Duke.Â Duke on the other hand hasn't forgotten last year's celebration in Charlottesville.Â One hopes that at least Lance Thomas will be ready, but whether he is or isn't,Â Duke will find a lot of good things in the Temple game to build on.