Duke handled St. Louis with little trouble at all -- the Billikens didn't crack double digits until the 5:08 mark -- but before we all get too carried away, let's remember that St. Louis has three juniors, three sophs, and six freshmen.Â And on top of that, they lost three players quite late and one of the juniors, Kyle Cassity, played on a bum ankle. So while there's a lot of good things for Duke to take away, you have to keep it in perspective. The St. Louis we saw Saturday was not the team that was scheduled.
Still, there were a lot of positives and among the good things was Duke's ability to completely discombobulate St. Louis.Â They forced 22 turnovers, and they seemed to come in waves.
Duke also had excellent ball control, turning it over just nine times themselves.
They pretty thoroughly controlled every aspect of the game. But it wasn't perfect, as we learn from this hilarious Tweet from Duke Blue Planet: "Coach K just did impression of a man tip-toeing through tulips in huddle. Academy-award worthy. I think the guys will play with more urgency."
Duke did have an energy lapse at the beginning of the second half and St. Louis took advantage.Â But for the most part, it was all Duke, and there were a lot of good things to take away, although as we say, you have to keep a sense of perspective given St. Louis's issues.
First of all was the overall point guard play.Â Nolan Smith has come a long way since his sophomore year.Â He's doing a nice job running things and finished with five assists (although also four turnovers).Â Seth Curry and Tyler Thornton added six and four assists respectively, and with just two turnovers between them.
While Mason Plumlee was not effective, Miles certainly was and showed a number of nice moves around the basket.Â Â Â As a matter of fact, Duke seemed to emphasize getting the ball down low, which is certainly something they need to improve on.Â For this team, three point shooting should be a consistent strength, but there's always a day when no one is hitting.Â If you can't score inside on those days, you're in trouble.
We got the sense that it was one of those chalkboard things, that that was something they hoped to gain from this game.Â If so, they got some results from Miles and Ryan Kelly, who only scored four points but who is turning into a sneaky shotblocker.
One of the prices of Andre Dawkins' success is that, like J.J. Redick before him, people are going to pick him up at halfcourt.Â He's a very dangerous weapon and you can't fool around with someone who can shoot like that.Â As a result of St. Louis's focus on him and Duke's three point attack in general, Dawkins took just two shots, neither from range, hitting one, and scoring only two points.Â Not the end of the world; a great shooter causes anxiety no matter what happens.Â Other guys got more opportunities, chief among them Smith, who scored 22, and Curry, who shot 4-7 from the floor including 3-5 from three point range.
So where do things stand with the length of Irving's absence still uncertain?Â So far so good.Â After a slow start, Curry is coming around, and as a shooter, he's just as dangerous as Dawkins.Â The big men have all had good games at different points in the season, though it would be nice to get them all solid on the same day.Â Josh Hairston got more minutes than he usually does and took full advantage, scoring 12 points in 15 minutes on 4-5 shooting (he also hit 4-5 from the line).
Duke still needs to toughen up inside.Â We'd love it if one of the big men (take your pick) just reared back and slammed it in someone's face rather than juking and going up sideways or worse yet, falling away.
Otherwise, though, they've taken the loss of Irving remarkably well.Â And by the way, going back to last season, Duke has a 20-game win streak going on.
With their next win, Coach K will tie Dean Smith for second on the all-time win list, an accomplishment that might feel somewhat blunted by Smith's well-documented health and memory difficulties.Â Their rivalry hit rare heights and there may never be two coaches like that in a single conference again.Â Given Smith's history of gracious behavior, if he is able, we're sure he would send a note of acknowledgement.Â Then again, maybe not.Â The two certainly went after each other with everything they had.Â One classic story, which may or may not be true, has Coach K getting exasperated in one early game and turning to his assistants and saying, "if I ever get like him, just shoot me."Â There was also the crack about "Dean and I don't smoke out of the same pack of cigarettes," or words to that effect, which were designed to, uh, smoke Smith out publicly on his habit.
Still, each acknowledged the other's formidable talents. We heard a story several years ago about Smith acknowleding a young Krzyzewski's potential, but we were asked not to repeat it publicly. Suffice it to say he recognized a challenger quickly.
If Duke beats Elon and UNCG, then Coach K will tie and then pass Smith and he and his mentor, Bob Knight, will have between them 1,782 wins.Â Knight, at 902, will be just 22 wins ahead.
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