Over the last few games, a new Duke has emerged, and it's a team that has the heart of a champion.Â Consider.
Against Wake Forest, they gave up a tonÂ of size and yet outplayed the bigger Deacs thoroughly in the second half and after Wake battled back, built another significant lead.
The Duke-Maryland game was a one-point game with 5:44 left.Â Yet Duke won, 78-67.
Duke-Virginia Tech was a one-point game with 4:25 left, but Duke won, 72-65.
Something has really changed, and while it has to do with moving Elliot Williams into the starting lineup, it also has something to do with Jon Scheyer's move to the point. Since then, by the way, not counting the St. John's game, Duke's turnovers have been 6, nine, nine, and seven respectively.
Whatever it is, Tuesday night's game was physical enough that it was almost all blown up: Lance Thomas injured an ankle almost as soon as he entered the game (he sat in honor of the seniors and came in a few minutes later). Scheyer got up later in the game, gimpy.Â Paulus was sent in for him.Â Scheyer tried to wave him off but came out and back in a few minutes later.
It was that sort of a game.Â Florida State is big, athletic, and really good. Duke got kind of knocked back in the first half, when the 'Noles seemed to hit everything and Duke struggled from pretty much everywhere. They were also more or less out-toughed in the first and were lucky to be down only 40-34.
Things changed fast after halftime.Â It was like a different team came out of the locker room: Duke was tough-minded, assertive, and they seized the momentum.
And something else happened, too.
We had seen Lance Thomas in warmups, with a look on his face we'd never seen before. It seemed like he was really, really ready to go, and we were looking forward to seeing who this guy was.Â It was really interesting to watch him.
But he went out and someone else had to take up the mantle.Â As it turned out, it was Coach K.
The jacket went off, and he was all over this game.Â He was coaching his players, he was helping the referees, if you will, and in his spare time, he was leading cheers from the Crazies, asking them to chant Defense!Â Defense!
We've never seen anything quite like it.Â You got the feeling that if he thought selling popcorn would help, he'd have done that, too.
But ultimately, of course, the players have to make the plays, and so they did.
Duke tied the game on a Gerald Henderson three about six minutes into the second half, and when they took the lead at the 13:17 mark, at 55-54, the tone of the game had changed markedly. No longer was FSU seemingly scoring at will. Every basket, every rebound was hard to get.Â Nothing was easy after that.
The lead went back and forth a few times, but the game changed again when Solomon Alabi was hit for a technical foul with 6:38 left for shoving Singler off of him after a rebounding tussle.
Florida State had seized the lead, but Scheyer hit the free throws and Duke was on top.
For a few minutes, anyway.Â FSU had one more lead in them, on a Toney Douglas three pointer, to go up 76-74.Â Then Henderson took over.
First he hit a three to put Duke back on top, 76-77.Â Then made a pair of free throws.Â Then he came up with a loose ball and took off for a layup and finished off the three point play from the line.Â Duke hit two free throws in the last 30 seconds, one by Scheyer and one by Henderson, to wrap up the scoring.
Douglas hit a meaningless three at the buzzer to cut the final margin to three.
It was an amazing game in a number of respects, but to us, there were a few points that were above and beyond.Â K's passion, for one, and how he more or less pulled the whole building along with him.Â Then the incredible intensity Thomas had before the game, which we would have loved to have seen brought to the game.Â And finally, the absolutely hard core, relentless second-half effort from Duke.
This was a game between two really, really good teams.Â Duke just had a little more heart in the end.
As for Florida State, a few comments.Â Solomon Alabi is going to be really scary really soon.Â The guy is huge, and he can play.
Second note of admiration:Â Toney Douglas.Â The guy is a monster.Â You could see his eyes light up in cruch time and sure enough, he wanted the ball. And scored.Â He has made himself into a great, great player. Just call him Stone Cold Toney Douglas.Â He's unreal.
Also unreal in a very different way is Ryan Reid.Â What is his problem?Â We don't come across that many guys we just can't stand, but he's one.
So now the regular season is down to one game, Sunday's matchup in Chapel Hill.Â In a very short period of time, Duke has come a really long way.Â If everyone is healthy again, they have a better chance of beating UNC than they did at home in Cameron. That would be an interesting cap to an ACC season.