Even if you had no rooting interest in this game, Duke and Wake put on a really interesting and compelling performance in Cameron Sunday night.
You could almost argue that it was two games.Â Duke's performance in the first half, or most of it anyway, was simply breathtaking.Â How often have you seen a half where a team -Â any team - coughs it up 16 times? And shoots around 60%?
Duke completely blew Wake away for most of the first half, taking the ball at will, scoring when they wanted to, pretty much having their way. And Elliot Williams was right in the middle of it.
Starting for the second time in a row, Williams had an electrifying effect on the game early, taking the ball away from Wake twice in a row (he finished with four).Â Duke fans could be forgiven for having flashbacks to 2001 for a few minutes.Â And now he's had a big game in Madison Square Garden and in a huge ACC game.Â But it's not like it was just Williams.
Coach K was as pumped up as we've ever seen him.Â In fact, we've only seen him at that level of competitive fervor twice that we can recall.
Once was against Georgia Tech, when more or less tried to rip hands off the Georgia Tech coaching staff after the game, and the other was the first game back after his year off, when he got a T about 30 seconds in.
He was beyond fired up for this game, and his team responded.
In particular, Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer had spectacular games. Both guys had shot erratically, Henderson lately and Scheyer for longer.Â Not this time:Â Henderson was 11-5 and Scheyer was 8-16.Â And since moving to the point for the St. John's game, Scheyer has had one turnover.Â That's pretty impressive.Â Actually, that's damned impressive.
Four starters finished with double figures.Â Williams had 11 and Kyle Singler had 11 as well.Â Lance Thomas finished with seven but had some important offensive follows.Â Â Nolan Smith, Greg Paulus, Dave McClure and Miles Plumlee came off the bench for a total of 31 minutes but only provided seven points, two boards, and two assists between them.
More good news:Â Duke forced 20 turnovers and only gave it up six times.Â That's pretty impressive considering Wake's backcourt and how quick they are.Â Wake also had only one steal to Duke's 10.
On the not-so-good news, Duke again had trouble matching up with quick guards. They did control Jeff Teague for a good bit of the first half, but he erupted for 28 on 10-16 from the floor.Â And Ish Smith shot 6-10 and had little trouble getting inside Duke's defense when he wanted to.Â Duke also had a very tough time with James Johnson.Â Nothing new there: everyone does.Â Johnson racked up 26 on 11-17 shooting.
And also in the not-so-good news department, Duke allowed Wake to shoot 54.1% for the game (Duke shot a very impressive 61%).
Oh wait, that's not right: reverse those.Â Duke gave up 61%.Â At home.Â Ouch.
On the other hand, they did pretty much shut down Al-Farouq Aminu and Chas McFarland.Â Aminu failed the acid test of Cameron with just seven points; McFarland managed just six.
After two games, it seems fair to say that the Williams experiment has shaken things up.Â The offense is much improved, but the defense not as much.Â Duke, which had defended so beautifully early on, has fallen off lately, and while part of that was just dealing with quicker guards and Wake's great bounty of athleticism, Coach K can't possibly be happy with giving up 61%.
Nonetheless, Duke won, and moves into a three-way tie for second place with Clemson and Florida State. Wake, on the other hand, is looking up at four teams ahead of them in the standings.Â For a team slated to be Final Four-worthy, that's bound to be tough to swallow.
Just as importantly, they've recaptured some swagger and confidence.Â Good timing: they're going to need it.
Maryland is up next, and the Terps are going to be high as a kite after the big win over UNC. A win over Duke, combined with the wins over UNC and Michigan State would make a solid argument.Â And while Duke fans probably haven't been thinking a lot about that 41 point smackdown, it might as well have happened yesterday in College Park.