Duke went up 9-2 very quickly, but Wednesday's game against Shaw was not the takedown many Duke fans expected.
Shaw roared back and made a game of it for the first half, cutting the lead to 16-15 with 13:51 left and then 34-29 with 7:30 to go.
They might've been more in the game than they were if Andre Dawkins hadn't erupted.
Entering the game with four others with 4:40 gone in the first half, Dawkins ripped off three straight three pointers and added another a few minutes later.
By the end of the first half, though Shaw played very well, Duke had built an 11 point lead and Shaw had built some foul trouble.Â Two key players had three and some other players stacked some up early in the second.
Realistically, in a game like this, the underdog can only hope to keep up if its players are not in foul trouble.
The game therefore was effectively over at the half.
Still, Shaw nearly won the second half, with Duke outscoring them just 31-28.
Shaw also handled the ball well, coughing it up just 14 times.
They might've made more of a game of it if Malik Alvin hadn't shot 4-18.Â The Bears guard was very effective on the break but less so shooting: take his disastrous performance out and the Bears shot 56.4%.
On Duke's side of the ledger, perimeter defense had to be a concern.Â Tyler Thornton, the best defender among the guards, started, but Shaw got through Duke's defense pretty much at will.Â Most years, Duke is ahead on defense and catching up on offense in early November.Â Not this time, at least not so far: the defense was not very effective Wednesday night.
Offense was a different story. Mason Plumlee was 6-6 from the floor; Miles was just 4-10 but he was aggressive and played smart.Â He just missed some shots.
Ryan Kelly was 4-8.
All three big men have obviously worked on their jump hooks and hooks and were obviously encouraged to use them.
Kelly was also outstanding defensively.Â He blocked shots, rebounded and did a better job of keeping people out of the lane than either Plumlee.
Based on what we've seen so far, it's going to be hard to keep either Kelly or Thornton on the bench.
Thornton started at point, with Seth Curry moving over and Austin Rivers starting as well.
Rivers, who to an extent lost his composure against Bellarmine, was vastly more effective against Shaw.Â He has a rare ability to penetrate and pull up - all to often a forgotten art - and when his three point shot comes around, he'll be a real force.
He also played defense with intensity, and you can see that when he makes up his mind to it, he'll be an excellent defender.
Curry certainly showed flashes last year; this year he is a very different player.Â He's playing with a lot of confidence and verve.Â Like Rivers, he has developed a solid mid-range game but he also has a deep shot to match.
Michael Gbnije played nine minutes and produced one spectacular open-court block.Â If Duke's defense continues to struggle, don't be surprised to see him get a chance at minute based on his defensive potential.
Josh Hairston got 11 and managed to come up with six boards in that stretch and some really nice hustle plays.
Alex Murphy, who started the first game, got just three minutes in this one.Â He did hit one beautiful three from deep in the corner.
We were also impressed with Quinn Cook's play.Â He's still getting his leg back after knee surgery, but the guy is clearly a natural point guard: he moves the ball crisply, he defers to others, and he gets people the ball in great position.Â He's going to be fun to watch.
Our guess is that this week in practice is going to be all about defense and, given Belmont's approach, about defending the three and the lanes it opens up.
Anyone who thinks that Belmont is an automatic win better think again.
There's a lot of talent in this group, but they're not settled in roles yet and they'll be vulnerable for a while until they are.
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