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Duke Drives Past Miami, 81-74

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Miami played a sensational first half and Duke something less than that (when asked what he said to his team at halftime, Coach K said "nothing complimentary"), but in basketball, there's always the second half, and everyone knew Duke was coming, even Rick Barry, who said this, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

"Duke looks in a bit of trouble at the half. But we know what's coming. Will Miami's young players be able to stay with Duke? Will they rush their shots? There will be that moment when we see about them.''

What they saw was Duke getting off the mat and delivering a series of haymakers. Kyle Singler started it with nine straight points, and Duke overall ran off a 17-4 run to crush the rising confidence with which the Hurricanes had left the court at halftime.

A lot of it was on defense. Duke started forcing turnovers (they ended up with 22 for the game) and hitting threes and that's a tough combination to overcome. As Barry foresaw, the young Hurricanes weren't able to withstand it.

And while Duke got excellent defense and superb three point shooting, they also got another brilliant performance by Brian Zoubek.

You might think brilliant is too strong, but it's not. All too often, basketball simply measured by points and rebounds, blocked shots and assists. But that can't catch everything.

Stats can't show a big man who knows exactly how far out he can go on a defensive switch and yet still get back under the basket to guard his man inside.

Stats can show five steals, but they can't show the anticipation that allows a very large man of limited athleticism to get to the ball before a smaller, quicker man does. They don't track screens and picks or the quality thereof.

At this point in the season, surprising as it may sound to some, Zoubek is playing as well as any big man in the ACC and, at the moment, may in fact be the best big man in the ACC. Overall, who is playing better?
Not just scoring and rebounding, but all around? You have to consider Gani Lawal and Solomon Alabi, but other than those guys, there's only Trevor Booker. At an absolute minimum, Zoubek is the fourth best big man in the conference today. All three of those guys can put better stats, but when it comes down to understanding the game and helping his team, Zoubek is no longer second to anyone.

Certainly that's not to say that he is a perfect player or without flaws. He has several and there's no need to enumerate them now.

Despite those flaws, Zoubek has made himself into a real force.

At a certain point in the second half, it struck us that they were not just two different teams playing, but two different sorts of teams. Duke featured two seniors and three juniors. A much younger Miami probably had the talent, but not yet the knowledge, to pull off an upset of this magnitude.

And as we suspected, at least for a big part of the game they were able to pressure Jon Scheyer. At the end, however, he asserted himself and took over. Consider:

With 7:15 left, he got fouled on a three point shot attempt, hitting two of three from the line. With 5:32 left, he hit a dagger of a three. Twenty five seconds later, another. Immediately after that, he stole the ball. It was an impressive second half burst by the Chicago native.

All in all, when it came down to it, Duke's experience simply trumped Miami's. The immediate upshot is that no matter what happens on Sunday, Duke will still have at least part of first place after Virginia Tech goes home.

In the bigger picture, though, it's hard not to be impressed. Miami is erratic, but this is a talented team as they showed in the first half. Yet Duke broke them and broke them pretty easily in the second half. That's a tremendous accomplishment on the road.

Toss in Zoubek's metamorphosis, Singler's improved play, Lance Thomas's refusal to lose any time to his bone bruise and the overall superb defense, and you have to say, things are looking pretty good.

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