Normally after a loss, we try to find something positive to say. There just weren't a lot of positives about this game. Aside from the play of Nolan Smith, there just wasn't that much good to talk about, unless of course you're a State fan. And then there is a fair amount.
Almost everything State did looked good. Tracy Smith was sensational, particularly in the first half, but a big part of the reason he looked so good was because his teammates did such a great job of finding him. Javi Gonzalez, who has taken a lot of criticism during his career from State fans, was superb. Dennis Horner, who played with an injured knee, was inspirational. Farnold Degand, so limited last year by his own injury, was quick and lethal. And while Duke did a nice job on Scott Wood, overall, the defense was lousy. Coach K said after the game that it was the worst defense Duke has played all year.
Part of this may have been that Duke and in particular Kyle Singler and Mason Plumlee were still tired/sore after the Wake Forest game. That might be understandable. It's also possible that they committed the cardinal sin of looking past State to Clemson.
Doesn't really matter. Duke never matched State's intensity and paid the price.
We spoke briefly about Duke's Smith who had a fairly good game and a spectacular halftime buzzer beater. The team for the most part, though, was awfully flat. Now they will have to pull together, because what State did to Duke was in many respects Clemson's game, and Saturday could be just as bad if they don't coalesce.
Since there's so little to say about Duke's performance, we'd like to say a few words about State's.
We've always liked State basketball. It's not our school, but it's a fun program with a great history. Since Jim Valvano left, things have been difficult. Les Robinson did an honorable job and put State back on the right track, but he was not able to compete in the ACC. Herb Sendek was able to, but he bored people to tears and frustrated State fans to no end.
For the last 15 years or so, nothing much has gone right for the Pack. Even Sidney Lowe, a hero of the Cardiac Pack, has taken a lot of heat as he has tried to build his program. State fans have all too often grown cynical and jaded as their program has struggled to keep up with the ACC powers.
Tonight though went a long way towards catching up. There is a reasonable core of players on this team, some speed and athleticism, and more on the way. If nothing goes terribly wrong, State is back, and we welcome them. The ACC is a lot better off when they're good.
And also a word about the State crowd. The RBC has all too often been a wasteland. Not so this time, and good for them.
However, it's been awhile, and State fans left a certain amount of their identity behind in Reynolds. It was pretty clear that a lot of what they did they learned from TV, and some of it they need to work on. Many of the chants were straight out of Cameron, right down to the cadence. The airball cheer has long since gone out into the world from CIS, where it was born, but the clapped salutations for players is precisely what happens in Durham.
As their program continues to improve, though, State's kids will re-create their own identity.
Along the same theme, they need remedial dressing instructions. If you want do the wacky student body thing, party hats are not going to cut it, nor will white robot face masks.
We have a friend who is a State grad who told us years ago that the difference between Cameron, and (then) Reynolds is that at Cameron, they chant in unison but at Reynolds, they just scream their heads off.
The tradition was broken after State moved to the RBC, and as things turned out, State fans have been too dispirited to get around to restoring it. We don't think the fake sound meter made it over, which is too bad, and there's no doubt lots of other stuff which has been forgotten too.
You guys are our second favorite crowd in the ACC, and there's no need to ape what happens in Cameron. It's understandable that at this point, after such a long dry period, that you do what you've seen on TV. But do it your own way and it'll be great.
While losing is no fun, this game may well signal the rebirth of State basketball, and we don't mean the risk-averse actuarial approach of Sendek but rather the real thing: the passion, the electric atmosphere, the dramatic rush of red up and down the court. At its best, State basketball is a combination between a carnival and a passion play and is extraordinarily compelling.
If Lowe & Co. can build on this, they can connect the program back to the glory days of Valvano, Norm Sloan and Everett Case. The fans will return, and the crowd, which has forgotten so much during their years in the desert, will build new traditions and State will once again be one of the most dreaded stops in the ACC.
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