Balance was the order of the day, as Duke ran its ACC record to 10-1 with an 81-71 win over Miami.
It wasn't a walk in the park and few rational observers expected it to be. ACC road games are almost always dicey. There was a post-Carolina letdown lurking. Miami was good enough to push Duke in Cameron back in January and the Hurricanes badly needed a win to keep alive their flagging NCAA hopes. I don't think Frank Haith is in trouble the way Sidney Lowe and Paul Hewitt are in trouble, but he could use a signature win.
And we all know what happened the last time Duke visited the Sunshine State.
There was no surprise that Seth Curry replaced Tyler Thornton in the starting lineup. Mike Krzyzewski has made good use of sixth men over the years and Curry is quite a weapon off the bench. But if anyone ever earned a starting nod, it was Curry on Wednesday night.
Curry continued his solid play, with 16 points, giving him 51 points in his last three games. His 3-pointer seconds after Malcolm Grant's 4-point play had given Miami a 10-4 lead blunted much of the momentum from that unusual play.
About that balance. Nolan Smith picked up two early fouls and a nasty blow to the eye that caused some concern. Kyle Singler didn't score his first points until almost eight minutes into the game.
But a team that sometimes can become overly reliant on its two stars, managed to weather the early storm, with Curry showing increasing signs of becoming a go-to-scorer. Mike Krzyzewski said following the Carolina game that Curry had been working on getting off his shot quicker and the results of that work are evident.
Miami made some bombs from downtown and led 37-33 with a couple of minutes left in the half. But Smith returned to the game--amidst huge sighs of relief from the Duke nation-- and the Blue Devils closed the half with a 9-0 run, keyed by some big offensive rebounds.
Smith finally heated up in the second half, showing the full range of his offensive arsenal, 3s, pull-ups, foul shots, transition. He shrugged off the eye injury, shrugged off some 50-50 fouls that didn't go his way, shrugged off Miami's physical defense, just kept attacking and attacking until he imposed his will on Miami. Smith's finish on a 1-on-3 fast break gave Duke its first double-digit lead at 61-51.
Miami hung around after that but it never really had the feel of a game they could win. Duke managed its delay and the clock without perfection but with enough efficiency to close out the victory.
At the end, it was methodical win, with lots of blue-collar work, the kind of win Duke needs to have successful seasons. They can't all be Instant Classics.
Duke did lots of things well, committing only a dozen fouls, turning the ball over nine times and keeping Miami off the line. Foul shooting was superb, especially Tyler Thornton's 6-for-6 in the final minute.
Duke's big men contributed in a variety of areas, including smothering Reggie Johnson, inasmuch as a 300-pounder can be smothered. The Duke big-man trio combined for a solid stat-line, 27 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks and 6 assists.
So, a difficult week ends with Duke further ahead in the ACC then they were a week ago. After losing their ACC road opener to Florida State, Duke has won four straight conference games against hostile crowds. Given that the Blue Devils have only three more games in Cameron, this is not an inconsequential development.
As bothersome as Miami has been in recent years, Mike Krzyzewski still has a 15-1 mark against Miami, the loss coming on the road three seasons ago.
Seth Curry had five steals against Miami, giving him 37 for the season. That ties Nolan Smith for the team lead. Smith has a 20-18 lead in ACC contests.
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