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A Foul Performance: Wake 86, Duke 73

A lot of people might be pretty surprised that Wake beat Duke, but not us. They're getting better fast, they're bigger, and faster, and match up with Duke very well, and they had a lot of motivation to win this game.

That said, Duke played a pretty bad game. Where for most of the season they've really taken the game to opponents, this time out, they let Wake dictate the terms of the game, and lost, 86-73.

After the game, Nolan Smith, one of the few players who was truly admirable from beginning to end, said "...I think it was just us not being as aggressive as we've been all year, taking the right shots, and just passing up a lot of shots that we should have taken, and second-guessing ourselves early. Lackadaiscial turnovers, out of bounds, that's what happens."

Pretty much sums it up. Coach K exanded on the theme, reminding folks that his team is pretty young, except for DeMarcus Nelson and Dave McClure, and it hasn't entirely learned the habits of a championship team.

Statistically, you can break it down to a few things: turnovers, rebounds, three point shooting, fouls, and poor foul shooting. Duke had 21 turnovers, got outrebounded 41-33, hit 8-28 from three point range for 28.6%, only shot 52% from the foul line (most of this was Nelson, who was 3-9; the rest of the team actually shot pretty well, going 10-16), and in a rare accomplishment, the entire starting five fouled out.

But the rookie was right. Duke has played through dire circumstances before; a hallmark of the program is that the team rarely gets outworked on the court. You can't honestly say that this time. Wake won on virtually all fronts. Duke did get more steals than Wake, and got one more offensive rebound than the Deacs. That's about it.

For Duke, collectively there's not a lot to talk about. Individually, Nolan Smith was the one guy down the stretch who played with a lot of heart. He also shot 8-12 for 21 points. Don't be surprised if he pops into the starting lineup against Miami. He was tremendous at the end.

Kyle Singler had a respectable offensive game, shooting 6-10 from the floor and 3-4 from the line, but he undercut it with a number of poor passes and five turnovers.

Gerald Henderson is still reluctant to shoot with his wrist injured (although it doesn't stop him from trying to dunk) and only took four shots in this game.

Greg Paulus was 3-9 and played significantly below the standards he has set for himself this season.

Nelson had the effort, but didn't play the way he is capable of playing. Incidentally, we could be wrong about this, but having really strong hands could work against Nelson: he tends to grip the ball, rather than to cradle it, and he does it when he doesn't have to, like at the foul line and when he's passing the ball back to the official.

And Lance Thomas continues his recent trend of modest scoring inside. Part of the reason why he's getting better at it is because he doesn't bring the ball down on offensive rebounds - nice fundamentals, Lance! And since he's primarily there as a defender, that's a bonus. But he had trouble defending Wake's thicker players, and the wiry Thomas, like the rest of the starters, fouled out. And despite being smarter than the average park ranger about keeping the ball up, he turned into the defense more than once and watched the ball, and the opponents, disappear downcourt.

Duke had a tough time with Wake's guards, but also a tough time with James Johnson, who scored a lot of opportunistic baskets and grabbed sixteen boards. And one thing they in particular had a hard time with was covering shooters. Wake got far too many uncontested shots.

While losing is never fun, and losing an ACC game in particular is not fun to lose, that's not to say it can't be useful. If you've read any of Coach K's books, you know pretty much what he has to say about it, and it starts with being honest. So honestly, the defense wasn't there. And despite that, despite the many open shots, Wake only shot 45%.

We usually leave the officiating in general for others to comment on. But there were two calls which were hard to follow: the technicals and the intentional foul call on Chas McFarland.

We're not lip readers, but it seemed pretty clear that McFarland said something obnoxious to Zoubek, who turned to the ref and apparently said something like "did you hear what he said?" and was stunned by a technical. Of course, we don't know what either guy said. But it seemed like an overreaction.

And the intentional call when McFarland fouled trying to stop a drive? We didn't get it. His hands were in the air, he seemed like he was going after the ball, and the call didn't make sense to us.

When you get down to it, it was a poor performance by Duke. Yes, Wake is quick and big. But they got a lot of uncontested shots, and Duke was disorganized and couldn't match Wake's intensity.

That's a fixable problem, but they'd better fix it quickly. Wake used this game to grab the committee's attention. They get a full week to get ready for UNC, and their confidence is soaring.

For Duke, they get Miami on the road, and after the game here, you can probably guess what's coming: a reasonable impression of Clemson, c. 1997. Like Wake, Miami is going to see Duke as a ticket to the dance, and if Duke can't match their effort, they'll lose again.