Duke has done a lot of amazing things over the years, but the win over Florida State for the ACC title is somewhat unusual.
The typical thing in the ACC, when one team has beaten the other twice, is a game where the intensity ratchets up to a completely different level. Think of Duke and Maryland in 2001, for instance, even the fourth game in the Final Four, where Maryland destroyed Duke in the first half.
What you might have normally expected in this third game was that Florida State's powerful inside game, which was so effective in Durham, would come through.Â Add the tremendous Toney Douglas to that frontcourt, not to mention the up-and-coming Derwin Kitchen, and it should have been real trouble.
Didn't quite work out that way.
After a nice start by Florida State, going up 11-9, Duke ripped off 14 straight points. The defense had been superb before that and remained superb for the entire game. The offense had a couple of droughts, but FSU is a good defensive team as well, and that's to be expected.Â But there was a factor in that run that almost no one expected, and that was the huge impact Brian Zoubek had on the game.
Zoubek completely flummoxed Solomon Alabi. As soon as he checked in, just before the first media timeout, he blocked a shot.Â He made Alabi change another one.Â He also drew a foul on the big man.
Alabi, who had two early buckets inside and had no real impact on the game after Zoubek's burst.
As Bill Russell pointed out long ago, defense isn't just blocking shots. Sometime it's just question of denying a guy a few inches.Â If you read that phenomenal Times article about Shane Battier and how the Rockets are learning to measure performance, you saw that one of his goals when guarding Kobe Bryant was pretty much exactly this:Â push him back a few inches and his shooting percentage goes down a good bit.Â Apparently it applies to Alabi as well.
Zoubek pretty thoroughly discombobulated Alabi, and the young big man never recovered.Â Neither did FSU's inside game. Toss in a vicious outside shooting streak, and Duke was soon up 29-14 and on their way.
Florida State did cut it to 42-36 with 12:23 to go, but Duke rallied again and that was that. After that, it was basically just caring for the lead.
One of the things we didn't hear the announcers mention: Duke pitched a shutout on Uche Echefu, who had such an effective game in Durham. In that game he had 18 points; in this one, zero in 15 minutes.
Derwin Kitchen, who had had a nice tournament until Saturday, also was shut out.
Given FSU's huge size advantage, that Duke out rebounded them was a big plus: Duke got 33 overall and 12 offensive boards to FSU's 32 and six.
Obviously Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Gerald Henderson had big games, but they weren't the only ones.Â Nolan Smith came in for 25 minutes and had a couple of huge baskets, along with some solid defense.Â Dave McClure had 16 minutes and has played so well that Mike Gminski said that if you toss out the stats, he could be the MVP.Â Interesting argument.Â McClure is somewhat like Battier in that his contributions are often masked. It's hard to measure tipped rebounds, or stepping in someone's path and forcing them to turn the way you want them to.Â He's having a wonderful senior year for Duke.Â You might recall, by the way, that after his dunk to beat Clemson a couple of years ago, McClure got hurt the next game and Duke's season started to head south.Â We didn't think it was a coincidence, nor do we think that Duke picks up when he's in the game by chance.
About the only concern from this game was that Duke built a 65-43 lead and almost let FSU back in the game.Â In the last 6:12, Duke was outscored by 12.Â Not good.Â This after Maryland had a near-rally the day before.
Florida State had success trapping Duke in the corners late in the game, and forced Duke to call timeouts - which, fortunately, they still had. In a different sort of game they might not have, and it would have probably meant a turnover.
In the last 3:18, they missed four free throws, but in the last 1:25, they made all six, and Scheyer got loose for a long pass and a lay-up on an inbounds.
It was a tremendous performance, and one that answered a lot of questions.Â Now Duke moves on to the NCAAs, where they are a #2 seed in the East.Â They could conceivably get a fourth matchup with Florida State if both teams were to advance to the regional finals.