Any time your star player gets into foul trouble in the first 30 seconds, you have to figure life isn't going to be simple or straightforward. And so it wasn't for Duke against B.C.
Still, it turned into an unexpectedly great game.Â We expected a close game, with Duke maybe pulling away a bit at the end, but B.C. didn't let that happen. The Eagles under Al Skinner have long been a physical team which passes brilliantly, particularly inside. Toss in solid long-range shooting from Tyrese Rice and (in this game anyway) Biko Paris, and B.C. is a really dangerous team.
Still, despite the absence of Henderson and poor shooting in the opening minutes, Duke rather quickly rang up an 11-2 lead but that didn't last long.
B.C. rallied and then some, taking the lead at 19-17 and building a 29-22 halftime lead.Â They led by eight early in the second half, but Duke hit four threes in short order and regained the lead five minutes into the second half.Â Â The Devils didn't trail again until Joe Trapani hit a pair of free throws with 52 seconds left in the game to put B.C. up, 65-64. Gerald Henderson got loose for a basket in the lane with 34.8 left to provide the final margin - but not without sweating.
Jon Scheyer, uncharacteristically for him but unfortunately now characteristically for this team, missed the first of two potential free throws with 14 seconds left that would have guaranteed a minimum of overtime, barring some unusual twist of fate.Â So B.C. got the ball back, moved it to halfcourt, and called timeout.
When Rakim Sanders tossed the ball in, Duke did a superb job of blocking access inside.Â Sanders had only Tyler Roche to toss it into, and he was guarded by Lance Thomas, and he wasn't about to try a three over Thomas.Â His only option was to toss it back to Sanders.Â Twice this year, Sanders won games for B.C. on late tip-ins, but not this time.Â He caught the ball parallel to the center jump circle, where Duke had forced the offense, with 4.9 left and Gerald Henderson moving on him. Somewhat like UNLV's Greg Anthony 18 years ago, although Anthony was on the other side of the court, and about as high, Sanders balked slightly as he headed toward the basket and probably shot too soon.Â The ball hit the front of the rim and bounced off into Lance Thomas's hands.
Tyrese Rice put his arms on his thighs and leaned down.Â Biko Paris sat on the floor, looking up at the scene.Â Â Cory Raji got off the bench and resigned to his fate, took off his headband.Â Al Skinner, understandably, was visibly disappointed while he shook hands with the Duke camp.Â Chris Carrawell walked off the floor with Rice and spoke to him for a minute. Rice nodded back, not answering.
Duke and B.C. have gotten in the habit of putting on these sorts of games, full of burning intensity and fierce competition.Â In this one, though, no one came close to what Kyle Singler did.Â Not only did he score 26 points on 10-15 shooting, he also grabbed nine boards and blocked six shots. That's enough to start arguing for All-Tournament.Â But what was even more impressive was his clutch defense:
With Duke clinging to a one-point lead, Singler was guarding Joe Trapani near the foul line with his back to the basket. Sanders drove and Singler turned to look over his right shoulder and immediately collapsed to the basket and blocked the shot. It was a brilliant play. Watch it again if you can.
Then on the inbounds, he knocked the ball away from Trapani into Scheyer's hands.
Then, on the final inbounds, he sealed off Trapani, fronting him, then got behind him in case the shot came off on his side of the lane.Â You won't see that written up anywhere much, but it was a nifty move on his part.
Elliot Williams also did a number on Rice on the play, forcing him, as he said afterwards, sideways, which took him out of the play.
Duke held Rice and Joe Trapani to 5-15 and 4-12, by the way. Sanders was 3-12.
Nolan Smith got some significant minutes, with 18, although he was obviously a bit off, missing a layup at one point. But at least he's back and getting his legs under him again.
All the starters had at least five rebounds, except for Henderson, who only got one.Â In fact, if you think about it, the fact that Duke played such a tough game and got only 22 minutes from Henderson, almost saw Scheyer and Williams foul out, again missed key foul shots, and still had the guts to pull out a game like this - it's good news.
They still need to figure out a way to be clutch from the foul line.Â At some point, that's going to cost them.Â But the fact is that this team is winning games like this and they're playing with a lot of heart.Â That doesn't guarantee them anything, butÂ it does make their odds better.