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Duke Outguns Texas, 74-69

It had the feel, didn't it?  In the last seven minutes, it had the feel of a big-time Duke game as the Devils and Longhorns, each team limited in their own way, dug down deep and battled down to the closing seconds before Duke won 74-69 to advance to the Sweet 16.

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There were a lot of memorable things in this game, but two plays stand out and may stick in the collective memory for years to come:  first, Kyle Singler's clutch tip-in to put Duke up 69-67.  And then Jon Scheyer's remarkable, going out of bounds, behind-the-back pass downcourt which Elliot Williams picked up and which put him on the line. He missed them, but Gerald Henderson got the ball and was fouled and he hit both of his to put Duke up 74-69, and that was was that.

But to put it all down to those plays really reduces an interesting game to a spectacular ending.  There was more to this than that.

Duke took an early advantage by defending both A.J. Abrams and the immense Dexter Pittman very, very well.  Pittman was limited to 22 minutes and got in foul trouble to boot.  As it turned out, speed and athleticism trumped size and strength, which is the history of the games between Coach K and Rick Barnes, really.

Abrams, who had so completely torched Minnesota Thursday, was held to 5-13 and 2-6 from three point range.  The other main option Texas has, Damion James, was held to 6-13, and he had six turnovers.

Clearly, with an erratic offense and their best players held to 40 points, someone else had to step up, and Varez Ward did.

Both teams had built significant foul trouble by the time Pittman got his fourth with 10:58 to go.  Duke's Kyle Singler had four by the 6:53 mark; Lance Thomas got his fourth with 4:32 and his fifth with 3:39.  Singler got his fifth at the 1:07 mark. And to top it off, Brian Zoubek, who took a good pop to his already broken nose, picked up his fourth with 14:19 left.

So Duke did a solid job on Pittman, but it cost them to do it. That's 14 fouls on the big guys, mostly, but not all, in the post.

Once Pittman got his fourth, Texas, and in particular Varez Ward, began to drive. This was smart strategy by Texas, although you could also argue it was required strategy since Pittman was out and Abrams was pretty much bottled up.  Thomas, Singler, and Zoubek couldn't go all out on defense and had to pretty much stand aside, at least until Thomas and Singler finished the game watching from the bench after fouling out.

Ward ended up shooting 7-8 and kept Texas right in the game.

After Singler's tip-in, Nolan Smith hit a pair of free throws, and Henderson made one of a pair. Scheyer had his steal and the remarkable pass downcourt that prompted Krzyzewski to jokingly call him "Magic" in the post-game press conference.  The rest you know.

But what a lot of people might miss is just how strong Duke's defense was at the end. After Gary Johnson hit a pair of free throws with 1:07 left, Duke pitched a shutout:  Damion James missed a three point jumper.  James got an offensive board and another shot. Abrams tried a three. James got another board and turned the ball over (this was Scheyer's steal).  Connor Atchley took a desperation three with six seconds left, but it was irrelevant at that point.

But here's the best part, at least to us.  In the last couple of years, with a young and often-injured team, Duke buckled in games like this.  Not Saturday.  This is a tough, rugged bunch of Devils.  They took a tremendous shot from Texas and could have given up.  They never did.  And you get the feeling that while they can be beaten, you're going to have to really work hard to do it.

Factoid of the day: since the now famous lineup change, Duke is 10-1.