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Duke Survives Belmont, 77-76

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Well we told you it wouldn’t be easy and it wasn't: Duke escaped Belmont by the skin of their teeth, just like last time.

And just like last time, Belmont came in with a deeper, more experienced and mature team.  Duke was successful when you measure by the final score, but at this point, Belmont is unquestionably the better team.

Fortunately, they still lost.

After a close first half, Duke broke out and built a 16 point lead, but it didn't take long for the more experience Bruins to pull themselves together and fight back, and they mostly did it with threes.

Like many young teams, Duke didn't react well to being pushed that way.  Tyler Thornton, who was in many respects Duke's most valuable player Friday night, picked up three quick fouls.  Austin Rivers forced a drive and had a turnover.  The big men missed some easy shots and Belmont wrestled the ball away from Duke on several occasions, or wound up in pile on the floor in hot pursuit of it.

For the most part, at the end of the game, they out-toughed Duke.  But not entirely.

Duke's intensity jumped mightily at the end, and while Belmont crawled closer, they couldn't quite close the gap.  And with the game on the line and the shot clock running down, Andre "Deadeye" Dawkins pulled up for a clutch three, and swished it.

Still Belmont didn't give up. Down four with about seven seconds left, they still managed to shake loose for a clutch if futile three, making the final margin just one.

After the game, Coach K said he was fundamentally happy with his team and credited the win to the summer trip to China, which makes sense.  They grew up a lot there and would have probably lost if they didn't have that experience.

Still, there is a lot to work on.

Austin Rivers is working towards a more complete game, but his two mistakes at the end could have been costly.  The big men are still reluctant to shoot in traffic (this is less true of Ryan Kelly).

Duke had far too many careless turnovers - at one point we counted four straight. They were also outrebounded by the smaller Bruins, 35-34.

They also gave up the lane too much, particularly in the closing minutes.

Despite being pressed by the superior teamwork of Belmont, Duke found a lot to like as well:  Mason Plumlee finished with 14 boards and 13 points; Miles chipped in six boards and four points.  The Plumlee total:  20 boards, 17 points.

Ryan Kelly added six points and three boards to raise the big man total to 26/20.

Rivers was just 3-9, but he again showed at times that he penetrates as well as any guard around.

Seth Curry and Thornton were solid at point, and in a brief appearance, Quinn Cook held his own.

Dawkins was just 2-7 from three point range, but obviously his last one was huge.

So from here, Duke has multiple lessons to learn and apply.  But there is a good collection of talent and excellent coaching, so it's just a question of time until they come together.

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