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Jim Sumner On Duke-Marquette!

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We're all familiar with the glass half-full/half-empty conundrum.

The beauty of last night's Duke-Marquette game was that it satisfied fans of both sides of the glass.

The half-empty stuff is obvious. Duke had Marquette on the ropes more than once but never really delivered the knockout blow. Shaky foul-shooting had a lot to do with that. Duke also committed 18 turnovers, the majority from Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving, not all of them forced.

The half-full? A win is a win is a win. Duke played up to its considerable potential in spurts but couldn't maintain that level very long.

Certainly, Marquette deserves credit for refusing to go away.

In a superficial sense, Marquette could be described as Duke-lite, a deep, perimeter-oriented team that runs at every opportunity, just without a boatload of prep All-Americans.

That's not really fair to Marquette. After all, this is a program that more than holds its own in the potent Big East. Marquette has earned NCAA Tournament bids each of the last five seasons and hasn't missed the post-season entirely since 2001.

Duke was already up 8-4 when ESPN began its coverage. The lead kept expanding, reaching double figures less than eight minutes into the game. When Irving assisted threes from Kyle Singler and Seth Curry, it was 23-9 and the rout was on.

Well, not exactly. Some fans who have swallowed the undefeated-season-kool-aid might have expected a blow-out but good teams have their runs and Marquette is a good team. Duke started missing threes and turning it over, while Marquette regained its composure and found room to maneuver inside. Marquette got the lead into single digits and the teams traded baskets until intermission.

Still, Duke led 40-31 after the first 20 minutes and things seemed to be well under control.

But the Blue Devils ran into a bit of the longeurs in the second half, standing around on defense and getting beat on loose balls.

And just like that it was tied. 53-53, 55-55, 57-57. Having pushed the boulder up the hill, Marquette could never keep it there.

If I had my druthers, I would rather Duke had built on that halftime lead and won going away. But sooner or later, someone was going to smack Duke in the nose and we all wondered how Duke would respond, especially away from the friendly confines of Cameron.

They responded by rebuilding the lead, with stunning quickness.

Perhaps that wasn't unexpected. But how Duke rebuilt the lead is interesting. Mason Plumlee grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Nolan Smith for a three that broke the last tie. Shades of Lance Thomas to Smith against Baylor.

Then Andre Dawkins stole the ball and converted in traffic at the other end. A 5-0 run in 16 seconds. Mason Plumlee dunked in transition, assisted by Irving. Dawkins assisted Mason. A 9-0 spurt, keyed by two sophomores who combined for all of eight points per game last season.

Control re-asserted.

The less said about the final minute the better. Duke led 82-71 and sent Curry, Irving and Smith to the line. This is the point where Duke salts it away. But all three missed the first end and Duke remained stuck on 82. Marquette cut the final margin to five.

The bad news is that this kind of foul-shooting could cost Duke a closer game. The good news is that Curry, Irving and Smith aren't likely to have a comparable stretch very often.

Mason Plumlee's career night is the game's biggest sidebar. The sophomore big man has not yet found a way to consistently channel his considerable skills into on-court production. He wasn't perfect against Marquette; that air-balled foul shot was wince-inducing. But 25 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks and 4 assists is a stat line that sets a new bar for Plumlee and every single one of them came in a contested game against a quality opponent.

Few of those points and rebounds were flukes. Mason played with a confidence and efficiency that have not always been a part of his game. If he can deliver comparable performance on a regular basis, the implications are obvious.


This marks the seventh consecutive season Duke has started 4-0. Duke made it 5-0 every one of those seasons except 2006-07, when they lost to Marquette in the title game of the CBE Classic.

Duke has won 26 straight games in November and has lost only twice in November in this century. The other loss was to Purdue in the finals of the 2003 Great Alaska Shootout.

Tonight's title game against Kansas State is the first time the two programs have met. Duke almost met Kansas State for the 1964 NCAA title. Tex Winter's Wildcats had UCLA in trouble late in the semifinals but the Bruins pulled it out and defeated Duke the next night for their first NCAA title.

Winter and Christian Laettner were among the individuals inducted this week into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, which is part of Kansas City's College Basketball Experience.

I'm told that everything is up to date.

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