Every so often we get e-mail from people who question the value of Lance Thomas to Duke's team. The last 6:26 of the B.C. game should provide a useful illustration.
Before Thomas fouled out, Duke had a 10 point lead. Though it went up and down for a couple of minutes, Duke's defense lost its intensity and the momentum shifted to B.C.
Thomas is not a guy who you can easily put a value on. You look at the box score and see six points and five rebounds, but what you don't see is the effort. He was a big part of why Joe Trapani finished 5-14 and why the frontcourt in general shot poorly - Josh Southern was just 1-2, Tyler Roche was 1-4, and Cortney Dunn was 0-2.
He doesn't do it by himself of course, but when you see him scramble and switch and pick people up, not to mention picking up loose rebounds, you start to get an appreciation for what he brings to this team. And what it misses when he's out.
Think back to some tight spots during the last two years, particularly the closing minutes. How often has he grabbed a key rebound in the last five minutes of a game? It doesn't show up in the boxscore, nor does smart defense like just keeping someone a shade out of their comfort zone or working his butt off to keep the ball out of the post. But his teammates know and his coaches know.
It's one of those great unknowables, but our guess is that the end of this game wouldn't have been as taut had he stayed in.
Consider this: after he went out, four of B.C.'s five baskets - not counting Reggie Jackson's remarkable three - came in the lane. We're pretty sure he would have at least been a factor on one or two of them.
Consider the fouls in the last 6:26, one on Mason Plumlee and two on Ryan Kelly, which led to six points.
Consider also the rebounds. B.C. coralled seven in the last 6:26.
We're not saying that Thomas would have stopped all the shots or not drawn the three fouls or that he would have grabbed all seven rebounds. Certainly not.
He would have affected at least a few of these plays, though, and it would have changed things a bit. Our guess is that he would probably have given Duke a bit more padding and that the lead would not have fallen to one point with 18 seconds left.
That's not to knock Plumlee or Kelly. Both guys have bright futures at Duke. But they're not experienced players and they aren't as smart in critical situations yet as Thomas has become (he wasn't either as a freshman), and they couldn't completely compensate for his absence.
He's never been one of those guys who draws a ton of attention, but his role on this team is vital, something Len Elmore completely missed when he more or less said that it didn't matter if Thomas fouled out as long as the big three - Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith - stayed in. He was right about them, they're obviously critical. He completely misunderstood the importance of Thomas however.
Scheyer and Smith had solid offensive games, shooting 6-11 and 9-15 respectively, while Singler was 4-14. Scheyer has made himself a pain for just about everyone. He's smart and sound and if you take away the shot he can drive and he is very smart with the ball. And as for Smith, twice this season, he has pretty much had his way with B.C. They had a different plan for Singler, more or less pounding him, but that is one way people deal with his versatility: just beat him down.
Miles Plumlee was 0-1 with just one rebound while Thomas was 3-4 with five boards.
Brian Zoubek was his usual reliable self off the bench with three points, six boards and two blocks and perhaps the key plays of the game: with Trapani set to launch a three that would have put the game into overtime, Zoubek, often criticized for his lack of speed, was the guy who went out and pressured him, forcing him to change the shot.
Obviously Thomas would have been on him had he been in the game and was fortunate that his fellow senior had his back (and chances are Thomas would have been all over Trapani).
Mason Plumlee came in for 20 minutes and pulled six rebounds and a foul shot.
For B.C., Trapani finished with 12, Corey Raji with 15, Rakim Sanders with 13 and Reggie Jackson with 11.
Duke won the rebounding war, 30/12 to 23/10 while the turnovers were more or less a wash at 11 for Duke to nine for B.C. Whatever you can say about them, they usually do a great job of taking care of the ball.
It's a key win for the Devils, as they have struggled on the road, losing at Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, and N.C. State. For B.C., though they're clearly improving, they've lost seven of their last 10 and the postseason is slipping away.
From here, of course, Duke heads to Chapel Hill on Wednesday, assuming that UNC can get out of College Park, which isn't at all clear right now in the face of the massive snowstorm. Airports are shut down and roads are completely closed. Presumably in a couple of days things will get better, but this will not be a typical journey back.
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