From the Stands: Duke-76, Liberty-47

A third straight game that allowed a lesser opponent to hang around longer than many thought they would was the story in the Great Alaska Shootout semifinals. The Blue Devils will look to put all the pieces together tonight against Purdue in the championship game. Before they do, TDD takes a look at what happened in the Liberty game.

What went right?

After yet another poor performance in the first half, the Blue Devils were able to make adjustments and soundly beat a team they should.

Chris Duhon returned to the form of the 2001 season where he was arguably the most effective player of his four year run in Durham. Duhon didn't just camp on the perimeter, instead he drove dished, and played tight defense, ending up with 12 points, seven boards, three assists, and three steals. While his teammates were cold in the first half, Duhon continued to try and direct the offense. In the second half it began to take effect as Duke began to roll.

The defensive effort continues to be very solid for the Blue Devils all over the court, especially inside with Duke coming up with seven blocks. The intensity is there but there are still holes, which are being routinely exploited by lesser quality opponents. The guards are still allowing penetration and the help defense continues to be slow to rotate down to help. That's more of a coaching problem that will certainly be taken care of when Duke has a chance to watch the film from the tournament.

The second half shooting was much improved as Duke began to move the ball around a bit more to get open looks. That's a major improvement over the first period when Duke seemed to settle for the first available shot, and not the best.

What went wrong?

Once again the first half showed a Duke team that couldn't hit sand if they fell off a camel. Shooting a paltry 31 percent in the first period due in large part to questionable shot selection. Winding down the first half saw the Blue Devils content to throw the ball to the perimeter and toss up a three point attempt with over 25 seconds remaining on the shot clock.

While Detroit may have been a very good team, Pacific and Liberty should not have been allowed to hang around with this Duke team. Sure they are going to get everyone's best shot because of the letters on the front of their jersey, but this team is still in desperate search of that killer instinct. This team is more talented than last, yet they still have yet to deliver an early knockout punch early in a game so far.

Questionable offensive decisions plagued this team for much of the first half. Rather than playing as a unit, it seemed there were five one-on-one match ups happening. A few drives into a triple team only to throw up a wild lay up attempt, or a drive that ended in a bad shot continue to speak to this team's lack of offensive continuity. That's something Coach K spoke to in his post game interview, and hopefully something that will work itself out sooner than later.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the performance to date has been the sluggish look Duke seems to give off since arriving in Alaska. They look like they are just going out there and plodding along, waiting for their talent advantage to take over. So far it has, but with the schedule about to get a lot tougher, they need to get things rolling.

Looking Ahead:

The Blue Devils face what could be the toughest test of the season tonight in the finals of the tournament when they face off against Purdue. The Boilermakers don't have the same talent level as the Blue Devils, but they are very well coached and play the stereotypical Big Ten style, which includes physical and relentless effort and a love of rebounding the basketball.

Duke cannot afford to go down big in tonight's game against Purdue, because with their defensive prowess it will be a lot harder to climb back than it has been in the first three games of the season.

If the Blue Devils were trying to conserve their energy in the first two games with a slower pace on offense, then tonight is the time to go ahead and scrap that in favor of the more traditional Duke offensive game. A lot of that rests on Duhon's shoulders since he's the maestro who can dictate where and to whom the ball goes early on.

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