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Duke Takes Out Miami In OT, 78-75

After a nightmarish performance at Clemson, Duke wanted to use the Miami game to put it behind them.  It took them about 25 minutes to shake it off, but they finally did, emerging with a 78-75 win in overtime.  But they really had to earn it.

Duke's offense was horrible in the first half.  Nobody was hitting, and they went to the locker room with only 19 points.  Fortunately, unlike at Clemson, they did defend reasonably well, and so were only down by 13.  But as Coach K noted after the game, the bad play continued on into the second half for a few minutes, and Miami extended their lead to 16.  But that's about when Duke roared back to life.

It may be, as John Feinstein thinks, that "Duke is not that good."  But whatever they are, Duke basketball has been defined by heart and effort for Krzyzewski's time in Durham.  They've always played hard.  That's why the Clemson game,and the first half of this one, are so confounding: they're so out of character.  It wasn't just the poor results, it was the lack of passion.

That ended in the second half, and a big part of why it ended was the play of Greg Paulus.  We've been big supporters of his throughout his career, because first we admire his willingness to work through injuries and his refusal to make excuses.

Another part of it was Gerald Henderson finally heating up. Miami threw a zone at Duke, and, like Michigan's, it took Duke a while to figure it out.  Henderson and Kyle Singler were firing blanks in the first half, and with the offense as reliant on them as it has been, it was a near disaster.

Henderson ended up with 18 in the second half, though, finishing with 19.  Paulus had 18. Jon Scheyer, who shot better but still not well overall (everyone shot better in the second half. If you break the stats down that way, they look a lot better), going 5-13, finished with 22.

Singler finished with 17 and 10 boards on 5-23 shooting. Since he started 1-15, that means he finished reasonably well at 4-8, reflecting the uptick for everyone in the second half.

While Paulus's game may go down in Duke annals as a key performance, no one should overlook what Dave McClure did. Well, he only scored two points; what could he have done?

Here's what he did: he spent a lot of time guarding Jack McClinton, and slowed him down (Miami's brilliant guard finished with 34).  McClinton, you may have noticed, tends to stay outside.  So it's really amazing that McClure was effective on him and still managed to grab 13 boards.  You try it. That is a phenomenal performance.

Feinstein's critique is based on the suggestion that Duke is too reliant on outside shooting and not that quick on the perimeter.  We don't have any problem with Henderson's quickness, though, and Nolan Smith is plenty quick enough.  Scheyer is not that quick, but he's a very savvy guy and manages to outplay a lot of guys who are quicker than he is.  Singler is not an elite athlete, but he's tough as nails and seems to do just fine most of the time.  We think Paulus and McClure made their cases today as well as anyone could.

What Duke has had for most of the season is enormous heart.  They've played remarkable defense and they've been willing to dive on loose balls and take charges and pretty much do what it takes to excel.  When they play that way, which they didn't for three halves, they can play with anyone.

As they showed in the second half of this game.

We're not huge fans of this Miami team, frankly, because from a distance, it seems like Haith has a tendency to bring in players who aren't necessarily that team oriented, and some who have punkish tendencies.  It's not hard to look back and find them:  Denis Clemente, booted, at K-State.  Eddie Rios, busted for grand theft from his fellow students, awaiting trial.  DeQuan Jones, who was ejected for elbowing Greg Paulus in the chin when Paulus was looking the other way.   And even McClinton, who has had his moments of punk behavior throughout his career, most notably against Ohio State, which cost Miami that game and a lot of momentum.

He also tends to get guys who run hot and cold, like Dwayne Collins and Brian Asbury.  Both are hugely talented; both are highly erratic. You can put Lance Hurdle, James Dews, and Adrian Thomas in that camp as well.

Nonetheless, they have a huge amount of talent.  The only real weak spot is at center, and it's not like that's a nightmare.

The point? Duke beat them by playing harder, but working harder, by being aggressive and audacious.  L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace! That should be this team's motto.

Apparently, when visiting the locker room after the game, Duke President Richard Brodhead recognized this, telling the team that they didn't just win the game, they had to win it, and win it, and win it again. Miami wasn't giving up.

But consider this, too.

After the abysmal first half, Duke finished the game even on boards, 41 to 41, and killed Miami, 18-7 on the offensive boards.  They also forced 19 turnovers to nine of their own.  And in the overtime, they held Miami to 25% (2-8) from the floor.

Consider also:  Jack McClinton hit 12-18 in a spectacular performance, including a completely ridiculous shot over Singler and Scheyer near the end of regulation from way deep along the baseline.

Duke, however, defended the rest of the team fairly well:  Cyrus McGowan whiffed on three shots.  Collins only took five, making three.  Asbury and Dews were both 5-8.  Hurdle was 0-4, Jimmy Graham 1-5, Thomas 1-5, and Jones only took one shot before being ejected for his flagrant foul on Thomas.  And in overtime, they clamped down on McClinton as well, shutting him out until the 0:37 mark.

What's magnificent about basketball is the way that a team can come together and do phenomenal things.  Duke was a great example in 1991 when they knocked off juggernaut UNLV.  Villanova beating Patrick Ewing's Georgetown team was another. George Mason's stirring run to the Final Four was another, as was Davidson's brilliant tournament play last season, which was about more than Stephen Curry's amazing performance.

Feinstein is at least partially correct, as Wake Forest proved when they dominated Duke for much of the game, and Clemson certainly proved in Littlejohn.

What cannot be accounted for, though, is heart and passion. Duke was lacking that for a bit.  Now, thanks at least partly to Paulus and McClure, they've found it.  We'll leave the final word for Coach K:

“Greg was a big part of this – huge – especially us not having the first half. Those, for a coach, are the kind of things, when a kid does that after the setbacks that he’s had, that’s a big-time thing. ... Our leadership has been just OK throughout the whole season, and when you’re winning sometimes you don’t even know who’s leading, maybe nobody is. And then all of a sudden there’s a moment and we need it. And it’s at that moment that you hope somebody steps up and becomes it. That’s the best leader, and that’s the best way to become the leader of a group – under fire. It’s the best way. Nobody designates you – you have to earn being the leader, and  Greg Paulus did that today.”