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Let The Riot Begin! Duke 77, Maryland 65

In College Park, Duke had trouble dealing with Bambale Osby and James Gist, who dominated Duke inside.  In Durham, though, Kyle Singler outscored the two of them by himself as he continues the transition from freshman standout to all-around star, scoring 25 and leading Duke to a 77-65 victory.

Singler was superb against Maryland, and he was a key part in forcing the mismatch to Duke's advantage: at one point in the second half, James Gist was gassed.  The last time we saw someone that tired in Cameron was when Shavlik Randolph played against Maryland after coming back from mono.

By midway through the second half, it was just killing him. He was utterly beat.  He was so tired he missed a dunk right under the basket.

Duke managed to dislodge Osby but particularly Gist on defense and force him to play far away from the basket, where he was clearly insecure.  He stuck his hand out very tentatively to vaguely contest Singler, much like boxers used to do before Mike Tyson cut them down (this is when he was in his prime and utterly feared by everyone, and winning fights in under a minute).

Singler picked a good game to shoot for greatness.  Maryland keyed heavily on DeMarcus Nelson, limiting him to a 4-12 night, and Gerald Henderson shot sparingly for the second straight game, taking only three shots,  perhaps because of his sprained wrist. He more than made up for that with seven boards, five steals, and three assists.

Greg Paulus also stepped up, bagging four out of eight of his three point attempts and finishing with 20.  He also had a bit of a run-in with a Maryland defender he felt was hanging on to him and shoved him away with a bit of surliness.  It was surprising that nothing was called on either player.

This was largely a defensive struggle: Duke only shot 39.7%; Maryland just 40.9%. The Terps also had 19 turnovers.

On defense, Duke managed to push Gist just far enough out and away from the basket to make his shot that much harder to hit.

Osby played far less minutes, but at the end, when Jon Scheyer drove for a key layup, Osby too seemed too tired to contest him.

Obviously Maryland has a great situation when those guys can camp out down low; when they get pushed out, their percentages fall off sharply.

That's just what Duke did. In Osby's case, you only have to push him a few feet away from the basket to make him uncomfortable; in Gist's, he needs to be worked further out. The defense had him out near the foul line fairly often, and that was just too far for him to be effective.

Duke also effectively shut Eric Hayes out, limiting the putative shooting guard to a 1-7 night.

Only Greivis Vasquez was truly effective against Duke, and in fairness, he was often spectacular.  Vasquez is a fairly normal athlete, meaning that he's not winning because he's bigger, stronger or faster.  He shoots well and he knows exactly how much room he has to get a shot off. His drives were somewhat reminiscent of Manu Ginobli, and he sliced Duke's defense up, particularly in the second half.  Vasquez ended up with 25 points, eight boards and seven assists.  About the only bad thing you could say about his game was that he had five turnovers.

Well, that and he almost got in trouble for woofing with the crowd.  An official went over to him and warned him to stop. He also explained it to Gary Williams. He did stop, but he made a couple of extra points with the officials.

Duke led at the half, 41-30, but the Terps rallied in the second and drew closer, finally cutting the lead to 55-57 with just under seven minutes left.

Singler hit a layup, Scheyer hit a pair of free throws, and after a Vasquez shot, Singler nailed a three to make it 64-57. Shortly after that, Paulus came down the right side of the court on a break and beautifully misled the defense before passing over it to a streaking Singler, who dunked and put Duke up 66-57.

From there on out, it was basically a question of game and clock management, and Duke handled both well.

Duke has some significant challenges left in their season:  they haven't even played Wake Forest or Georgia Tech yet, and they play Miami, State, and Virginia on the road.  And of course someone comes into Cameron (now who could that be?) for the last game of the season.

But still: this team is 22-1, and the loss was by one point.  It's a nearly miraculous season so far.  We hope everyone is enjoying it, and we hope no one takes this remarkable, unanticipated success for granted.  It's beautiful.

One of the really surprising things is that Coach K, at 61, is not set in his ways.  He's willing to experiment and to adapt, and to bend his ideas to his personnel.  It's been a phenomenal year, and a deeply satisfying one.  And in case you hadn't thought about this lately, no one seems worried about his attention being distracted by Beijing anymore.