In many respects, the contest in Cameron Thursday night was a heavyweight prize fight masquerading as a basketball game. We're not saying it was a slugfest, although it was a very physical and aggressive game, but rather that it had the intensity of two fighters going to toe knowing that one of them was bound to knock the other down. Fortunately, Duke did the knocking down rather than Tech, winning 86-67.
After the Georgetown game, Duke was clearly spoiling for a fight and for a good bit of the game, they got one, too, as Tech slugged right back, although not very effectively as a basketball team.
You could tell pretty quickly that it was going to be a rugged game as three fouls were called in the first thirty seconds, and two of them on Tech star Gani Lawal.
Super sub Zachery Peacock picked up the slack, scoring Tech's first 11 points before Duke shut him down (he didn't score again).
And when Derrick Favors got his second with 13:33 to go, Duke took advantage of the absence of both big men, grabbing 12 offensive rebounds in the first half.
Tech didn't help themselves in the foul or rebounding departments, obviously, but just as critically, in a game with a lot of fouls called (52), they were less than 50% from the line in the first half (6-14) and that put them in a hole. They finished 16-28, which wasn't the total difference in the game, but it hurt.
The obvious difference in the game was Kyle Singler. Duke's ace forward shook off his wrist injury and took a shine to the newly installed motion offense, going 8-10 from three point range and finishing with 30 points and five rebounds, nearly doubling the output of Lawal and Favor by himself (they combined for 17).
And a big part of the reason why they struggled - Lawal only got four shots and Favors just five - was the tremendous defense by Lance Thomas. We will confess that a couple of years ago, we really didn't expect him to become this effective. But there it is: he finished with six points, 11 boards, and two steals, and despite being shorter and skinnier than Lawal or Favors, he defended both at times, and did so very well. He's a remarkable effort/energy player. College basketball is all about roles, and he fulfills his beautifully.
Duke also got solid play from Nolan Smith, Brian Zoubek, Mason Plumlee, and Ryan Kelly, all of whom had credible contributions. Smith finished with 14 and had a running confrontation with Zach Peacock for part of the game, Zoubek finished with seven boards and another solid inside game, worrying Lawal considerably, while Kelly hit a three and grabbed four boards in just seven minutes. Plumlee hit a three and threw down a resounding dunk on a drive against Tech's vaunted front line. And while he was only credited with one assist, he had a remarkable passing game, time and again making over and through the defense. It's a lot of fun to see him do it.
Duke was up 45-33 at the half after a Singler buzzer beater, and after the break, they continued to pull away. But it wasn't as easy as it sounds. Like the Wake Forest game, this one was physical to an extreme. We lost count of the number of times Jon Scheyer swatted away hand checks that were too physical and there's no point in mentioning the rough stuff under the basket. What is worth mentioning, though, to continue the boxing metaphor, is how many near confrontations there were.
Smith had a very rough reception on one drive, and on another occasion, was simply held back by the shoulders. He and Peacock appeared to get into a little game-within-a-game and it looked as if Peacock had something to say to him at halftime.
Duke steadily pulled away on the scoreboard even as Tech grew more desperately physical.
Physical play closely followed Lawal, to the point where you could spot the refs getting ready to call something to calm it down. Tech got called for a very rough intentional foul on Miles Plumlee in the second half, and with the game long decided, while assisting two teammates trapping Jon Scheyer, Glen Rice, Jr., simply threw him to the ground and earned a technical.
The play of the frontcourt will get most of the attention, but the fact is that Duke shut down Tech's starting backcourt. Mfon Udofia wears #0 and Iman Shumpert wears #1 and they just barely surpassed their combined numbers, scoring just three points. Fortunately for Tech, Rice and Brian Oliver combined for 19 off the bench while Moe Miller chipped in five.
To us, the enduring mystery of this Tech team is two-fold: 1) why is Favors nearly invisible, given his massive reputation as a high school senior, and 2) why can't Tech tap into Lawal and Favors more easily? They are gifted players, but their productivity hasn't been what it should be.
For Duke, the question now turn to Boston College and a return to the road, where things have not been easy this year. Like Georgia Tech, the Eagles have improved, and the rematch shold be very intense. With Virginia and Maryland on their tail, B.C. is a critical game. Actually, in the best ACC tradition, they all are.
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