Duke got what it needed from Cal Poly Pomona last night. Maybe not what they wanted, maybe not what they expected. But what they needed.
The Broncos were the anti-St. Augustine's. The 2010 NCAA Division-II national champions were disciplined, poised and not even remotely intimidated by Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Cameron Crazies or the top-ranked Blue Devils.
Mike Krzyzewski says of the Broncos "They have talent, they're unbelievably well-coached, and they have great heart and determination. They went after every loose ball hard."
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Cal Poly had the perfect game-plan to slow down Duke's offense, especially in an erratic first half. A physical, match-up zone caused some impatient shots and passes by Duke, while a ball control offense stretched Duke's defense and kept the Blue Devils from running.
And, oh how Duke wanted to run. After the 141-point explosion against outmanned St. Augustine's in Duke's first exhibition contest, Duke lusted to run so badly that they forget the most basic premise of the fast break; you actually have to have the ball.
Mike Krzyzewski said that at no time in the first half did Duke actually have five guys going to the boards at the same time. Cal Poly would miss a shot, a couple of Blue Devils would take off down the court and be forced to retrace their steps when they realized Cal Poly had grabbed the rebound. The undersized Broncos outrebounded Duke 23-17 in the first half, with 11 of those rebounds coming on the offensive boards.
It looked like Duke had it figured out midway through the first half, leading by 14 points on several occasions. But the visitors closed the first half on a 9-2 run and trailed only 39-33 at intermission.
Kyle Singler said of the first half "they just played harder than us. We didn't come out ready, didn't protect the ball."
Classmate Nolan Smith says he and Singler "were talking throughout the game, saying it can't be like this, like it was in the first half. Both of us were frustrated, knowing we were not giving the effort we have to give come season time. So, when we started the second half we both got more vocal with the guys, getting them to play better defense."
The message sank in.
Singler only had 2 points in the opening 20 minutes. Krzyzewski said Duke fell in love with the 3 and forgot about Singler. In the second half "we just tried to position him where you are looking for him. And then he asserted himself too."
Singler exploded in the early part of the second half, showing the polished and varied game that has made him the consensus pre-season national player, scoring inside, outside, from the line, off the boards.
Duke gradually wore down the Broncos. The turnovers mounted and the offensive rebounds ceased. Cal Poly coach Greg Kamansky said "We thought if we could keep it a half-court game, we could keep it reasonable. But we got tired in the second half and we made too many turnovers. Their transition game is the best in the country. They make you pay for every mistake."
Some of the fast-break points were stunning. About five minutes into the second half, Ryan Kelly blocked a shot, apparently heading for out of bounds. But freshman phenom Kyrie Irving not only saved the ball, but somehow found Smith near midcourt with a pass that led to a Smith score.
Expect more of that. Lots more. Irving says "Coach has the utmost confidence in me to continue to push the ball and make my teammates better. We are best in transition; we have a lot of spot-up shooters, our big men can shoot. We have high flyers, so we just have to continue to push the ball, and that's the best offense for us."
The lead hit 30 midway through the second half and peaked at 76-45.
Krzyzewski said that Duke "played really well" in the 12-minute stretch that began the second half. "I thought we learned a lot from the first half."
Singler, Smith, Irving and Miles Plumlee sat out the stretch and those last few minutes were ragged. Sophomores Ryan Kelly and Andre Dawkins struggled, freshman Josh Hairston couldn't convert hard work inside into points and Cal Poly Pomona cut the final score to 81-60.
But there was a lot more good than bad. All five Duke starters scored in double figures while playing modest minutes. Duke won the battle of the boards 22-14 in the second half, while the Blue Devils forced 21 turnovers from a veteran team.
It's still the first week in November and Duke is integrating four newcomers into a young team. The team still is in learning mode.
"I thought our younger guys were knocked back a little bit," Krzyzewski said. "They have to learn. They have to know how physical the game can be and finish plays, take charges, get loose balls, and all of that. We have to go through a process of becoming better. So this game will help us to become better. We are a very good team, trying to get better."
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