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B.C. Knocks Off Devils, 80-74

Whatever anyone wants to say about how Duke played, it should be no surprise at this point in the season that B.C. played well. They are a talented, strong, and tough team, which they demonstrated Sunday evening with an 80-74 win over the Blue Devils.

Duke, as they have on several occasions this year, had some real ups and downs in this game.  For part of the first half, they were the smoothly efficient team they have been, at their best, against Xavier and Maryland, for instance.

Then in the second half, things stopped going so well.  B.C., borrowing a page from UNC, shoved Tyrese Rice down Duke's throat.  He sliced through the defense much as Ty Lawson did, scoring or passing for scores.

B.C. is a young team and they made several mistakes in crunch time.  But they overcame them without too much trouble.

For Duke's part, while the offense was solid in the first half, it didn't finish as well.  Gerald Henderson bounced back from the UNC game with 20 points, but it took him 21 shots to get it, and he only made eight of those. Kyle Singler finished with 25 and had a pretty effective offensive game.  He also grabbed eight boards.

Jon Scheyer's shooting is still off, as he was 3-12 and finished with eight points.  And Greg Paulus, Nolan Smith, Dave McClure, and Brian Zoubek combined for nine points - not very helpful.

One of the bright points in this game was the play of Lance Thomas, who was 6-6 from the floor for 12 points and had five boards.  Thomas, as we have argued, has increasingly shown authority and a desire to take responsibility for his team's success.  No exception here.  Aside from his solid play, Thomas cajoled and pushed his teammates, urging them on.  He's assuming some leadership on this team, and good thing.

As good as he was in this game, Duke had a lot of issues. Though they really mixed things up defensively, running some zone press and some zone trap for instance, B.C. still broke the Devils down on defense. It was effective early - Duke had a 13 point lead in the first half and kept Tyrese Rice off the board until 5:21 left in the first half - but B.C. managed it in the second.  And once they broke it, there was nothing to stop them from getting pretty easy baskets.

Still, it was  tie with 50 seconds left when Reggie Jackson hit a jumper. Henderson missed a go-ahead three, Rice hit two free throws, and then Duke missed two more shots.  Trapani hit a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left for the final margin.

Being Duke, there will be more made of this loss than it necessarily deserves.  When you put it together with the Clemson game, the Miami game to an extent, and the UNC game, what do you see?

On a basic level, three losses and a game that Duke won (Miami) basically by gutting it out.

On another level, what you see is this:  Duke has played four highly athletic teams.  Clemson was ridiculous - they're not that much better than Duke, a fact underscored by their performance since that game. In each game since Clemson, Duke has in some way gotten better. Against Miami, Paulus stepped up and willed his team to victory.  Against UNC, Duke was impressive for much of the game before the Heels used a scalpel called Ty Lawson to shred Duke.  And against B.C., Duke got a solid game from the frontcourt, although Henderson could have shot better.  They only got 11 from the backcourt, however.

As Coach K said after the game, the defense has fallen off lately.  Part of that may be due to more athletic opponents, part of it may be due to teams just knowing each other.  And part of it could be due to Duke wearing down, though we don't see that, least of all with Thomas chomping at the bit and obviously raising his game.

What probably killed Duke in this game, aside from defense, was the size and strength of B.C.'s perimeter.  The smallest guy is Rice, and he's freakishly athletic.  But Rakim Sanders and Corey Raji, as we said in our preview, pose some real problems and had a lot to do with limiting Scheyer's offensive performance.

Just for argument's sake, imagine this: consider this Duke team with one more player.  Where would this team be if it had either Chris Duhon, Billy King, Chris Carrawell, or, more recently, DeMarcus Nelson? Any of those guys could have shut down one of B.C.'s perimeter players and surpassed them offensively.

The good news is that the front line has come around and that Lance Thomas is injecting a new element of passion.  The bad news is that the defense didn't hold.  But the season is a long way from over.