Well, it's back to the office or back to school for most people. The holidays are over and the long winter grind is just beginning.
It's like that for college basketball teams. November and December aren't exactly conducive to routine. After a team gets Thanksgiving out of the way, exams pop up. Then the semester break starts, Christmas sticks its nose in and the New Year shows up. Sure, you have your exempt tournaments and those glamorous trips to Hawaii, Cancun and Kansas City. But every time you get some rhythm going, the team goes its own way for a few days, taking valuable practice time with them.
Duke began the 2010-11 season with five games in nine days but just ended a period with only two games in 17 days.
That's all in the rear-view mirror. Last night's 74-63 win over Miami opened Duke's ACC season and pushed the start button on the second season. A game in the middle of the week, a game on the weekend, mostly ACC games, no trips out of the Eastern time zone. Three days between games, four days between games, one gap of five days.
Duke's win was mostly workmanlike, with the qualifier applied to Nolan Smith, whose performance went way past workmanlike.
With 5:25 left in the first half, Smith was called for a dubious charge near mid-court.
At that point Duke led 22-20, with Smith having only two foul shots. The call energized Smith, who said "I got mad. I got a more aggressive mind set."
Did he ever. Smith hit a jumper, a 3, another 3, grabbed a defensive rebound, hit another 3, dunked after a dribble penetration. In the space of 3:14 Smith outscored Miami 13-2, extending Duke's lead to 13. It never again dropped below 9.
Not that Miami didn't have its moments. Reggie Johnson, Miami's 300-pound post player bulled his way inside and finished with surprising finesse, scoring 22 points and pulling down 9 rebounds.
But Duke did a solid job on Miami's potent backcourt of Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant. The duo came into the game averaging just under 30 points per game but combined for 21 against Duke, making only 8-26 from the field.
Mike Krzyzewski called Scott and Grant "big time guards. . . who can dominate a game. They're that good. Our big guys helped with ball screens. We did an okay job on them."
Smith got some help on offense. Kyle Singler missed some open shots but Krzyzewski said they were good shots. He still found a way to cobble together 14 points, with eight rebounds. Andre Dawkins was a pest on defense, picking up four steals and disrupting Miami's offense. He also delivered 16 points, not all of them in the expected ways. Krzyzewski says that assistant coaches Nate James and Chris Collins have been working overtime, helping Dawkins expand his offensive repertoire. Dawkins says his mid-range game is a result of hard-work and increased confidence.
Smith controlled the game down the stretch, making good decisions and scoring or assisting on all of Duke's final 11 points. He ended the game with 28 points, five assists, five rebounds and only two turnovers. The 28 points was a career high in ACC competition. Krzyzewski called Smith's performance that of "an old, really good ACC guard."
Miami outrebounded Duke 41-39 and committed one less turnover than the Blue Devils. Duke made five more 3s than the visitors and knocked down 14 of 15 from the line. If Miami shoots better than 3-17 from long-range in the rematch next month, they could make it very interesting for Duke.
Krzyzewski said that he took his team through Cameron yesterday showing them the ACC championship banners and reminding them that these titles were won by "showing up every day. It's your time to make an impact on the ACC. It's your turn."
Kyrie Irving got back into town today and was fitted with a new cast. The next round of tests will come Tuesday or Wednesday but Krzyzewski declined to call these tests any kind of go/no-go deadline.
Ryan Kelly continued to have one of those games where his value exceeded his stats, although eight points, six rebounds and three blocks look pretty good. But Kelly's length, switching ability and refusal to bite on fakes frustrated Scott more than once.
Kelly also had an impressive offensive rebound in the second half, muscling in a follow shot with an authority that he would have been unable to muster a year ago. Lots of work in the weight room led to that basket.
Duke's winning streak is now 23. Duke also won 23 games in 1991-92 and 1992-
93. The longest winning streak in school history is 32, during the 1998-99 season.
Singler's 14 points leave him with 1,995 for his Duke career.
Singler and Smith each went the distance. Asked about that, Krzyzewski noted that both love to play and that their coach knows "pretty much what to do at practice" to keep them fresh.
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