Human nature, and possibly youth, may have dictated a letdown after the Carolina game, but while Duke may have struggled a bit against B.C., this game also marked a milestone in the development of Kyle Singler and his willingness to impose his will on a game.
We've gotten used to Singler's versatility and the breadth of his skills by now, and we got a full dose of it against B.C., with 24 points, 10 boards and three steals, What we haven't always seen is his desire to grab the game by the scruff of its neck.
This was in many ways a ragged game - lots of missed dunks, bobbled passes, and Duke let B.C. shoot a very high percentage - but on an individual level, Singler showed things he hasn't really shown before. There he is, putting an open-court move on Tyrese Rice. Here he comes, getting mad and driving straight through the guts of the defense for an attempted slam dunk when Duke is in its delay game. And perhaps most importantly, when Shamari Spears knocked Gerald Henderson down for no particular reason late in the game, the Blue Devil who immediately got in his face?
That whole freshman thing? That deferring to the older players, being modestly assertive? That's over. Duke has a different dimension with Singler playing at this level. Coach K has a certain 12-letter word he uses when his team has a particular kind of a leader. DeMarcus Nelson is the captain, and no one on this team can bring what he brings. By the same token, no one else can bring what Singler is now bringing.
Still, you could say that in different ways about Henderson, Greg Paulus, Jon Scheyer, and Nolan Smith.
Henderson's athleticism is at times just breathtaking. In the last few games, on several occasions he's shaken off defenders and blown straight down the lane for dunks which just seem like child's play to him. To most of us, it's inconceivable. To Henderson, it's just the way it is. He can get so far off the floor it's surreal.
He's pretty lethal in Duke's spread offense, but what's really nice is that his mid-range game just snaps right into the template. He and Singler and Nelson are all very good from 10-12 feet.
Paulus has emerged as a really sound deep shooter, but he's also become a reliable ballhandler. If you recall last year, when he often had to turn his back to protect the ball, he often broke even on assists and turnovers. This year, healthy, it's a different story. He didn't shoot particularly well against B.C. (join the club), but he had five assists to one turnover.
Last season, Jon Scheyer often seemed physically outmatched. This year, he almost never does. He's developed a knack for steals and for being in the right place at the right time, and has become one of Duke's better sixth men. Like alomost everyone else (except for Nelson, who was 8-10), Scheyer shot poorly in this game.
Duke faced a mismatch with Tyrelle Blair, but it worked to their advantage, as he couldn't keep up with the screens and the smaller opponents, and Al Skinner took him out in favor of a smaller lineup, with the minutes mostly going to John Oates and Shamari Spears.
For the first half, it worked pretty well, and actually it worked pretty well for most of the second half too, as B.C. gave Duke fits. The Eagles shot 60% in the first, 50% in the second, and 55.2% for the game.
A lot of the damage was by Tyrese Rice, who was superb. Rice was 10-16, with some remarkable shots by any measure. On a shot where he tweaked his ankle in the second half, Rice hung in the air so long that, really, there was nothing anyone could do (TV didn't do that play justice). You had to tip your hat to the guy. We're sure Seth Greenberg is annoyed that he didn't pursue him more aggressively since he was an in-state product for the Virginia schools.
John Oates was effective too, even without Daryl Hall (bad joke, sorry, he's surely heard it before), hitting three threes and getting seven boards. And Shamari Spears had a solid game with 10 points and six boards.
B.C. outplayed Duke in the first half, but the Devils roared back in the second. Nelson's steal and pass to Paulus for a three, followed by a five second call and then a rebound and a coast-to-coast drive by Nelson gave Duke a seven point run and the lead, 49-46. Another three by Paulus, and Duke went up 52-46 and forced Skinner to take a time out.
Still, B.C. wasnt' going away, and Duke didn't get some breathing room until the Eagles went up 65-63, and then Nelson and Singler took over, sparking Duke to a 17-2 run that put the game away.
Singler started it with a three from the corner. He grabbed a defensive rebound, and Nelson scored a layup on that possession. Paulus got a breakaway on a broken play and put Duke up 70-65. Scheyer got back a Rice runner to keep the lead at five, and then Duke stole the ball. Scheyer bagged the free throws, and pushed the lead to seven. Nelson hit a three to push the lead to 10, and while B.C., being B.C., never gave up, the game was over. Singler's three closed out the run, and a tired B.C. didn't have enough left to come back.
Not that they're really a comeback team. Their style is more about steadiness than explosiveness, which is why they're almost always hanging around in the late stages of a game.
They weren't' going to win this particular game but over two consecutive plays, Shamari Spears really undercut his team. On the first, he pushed and shoved with Gerald Henderson under his end of the basket; on the other end, he threw him to the ground when Henderson cut towards to the three point line.
Singler confronted him and got hit with a technical; by the time it was all over, Duke's lead was 85-74.
Getting a technical is a bad idea, but it reminded us of a play during Bobby Hurley's career, and a move by Coach K. During one game, Hurley was manhandled and thrown down and no one came to his aid. Coach K read his team the riot act and told them that they couldn't allow a team to do that to their point guard. The next game, Hurley got pushed around and four players were there within seconds.
No one had to tell Singler.
It's just another bit of his maturation, his willingness to assert himself and to impose his will on the game.
Duke has had a superb campaign from DeMarcus Nelson, with Coach K calling his senior year one of the best leadership campaigns he has seen. All true, and there's no way Duke would be where it is without his incredible year.
But Singler is growing into a force at precisely the right time for Duke, and the expansion of his game suggests a corresponding expansion of Duke's potential.