When Wake beat Duke in Winston Salem last season the culprit turned out to be the rebounding margin (50-37 in favor of the Deacons). Saturday it was Duke winning the battle of the boards led by a combined 26 rebounds by the front trio of Shelden Williams, Shavlik Randolph, and Luol Deng.
Duke also established an inside game that was able to compliment the terrific outside attack of J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing who combined for 43 points on 13-of-21 shooting including 8-of-15 from the perimeter. Perhaps the most heartening aspect of Ewing and Redick's performance was the duo's ability to co-exist on the floor at the same time. They are now looking to score or find the other on, which forces defenses to extend. That extension leaves the inside players with room to operate, which has proven to be lethal in the last two games.
If the Duke offense was good against Wake today, then the defense was sensational. The Deacons were never allowed to get into their offense as the Devils shut down the driving ability of fabulous freshman point guard Chris Paul as well as the outside shooting of Wake's perimeter players.
Overall it was Wake's worst shooting performance of the season, shooting just 35.3% from the floor (24-of-68) while committing 12 turnovers. Of those 44 misses, 12 came courtesy of a Duke block including eight by Williams.
Finally, earlier on this year it seemed that when opponents made runs Duke was at a loss for what to do or how to respond. On Saturday the Blue Devils weathered a number of Wake runs to keep the margin at no less than three. The most telling run came out half time when Wake rallied from a 41-30 deficit to cut the lead to 45-42 with a 12-4 spurt.
Duke quickly responded with a 9-0 run that would eventually spread out to 10-2 and put the game away at 55-44.
What Went Wrong:
Aside from a few lulls defensively that allowed Wake to gain momentum, the only real problem for Duke came in the form of Redick missing his first free throw of the season – snapping his streak at 54 straight.
If you are into nit-picking, then you could also cite the 17 turnovers committed. Also the free throw shooting suffered a bit, most notably Williams hitting just 6-of-12 attempts. As a team Duke shot 67% from the line for the game.
Player of the Game:
While it's hard to discount the effort of Chris Duhon, who had 8 points, 14 assists, and five rebounds, the performance of sophomore big man Shelden Williams was just a bit better. The 6-foot-9 Oklahoma native's line of 16 points, 14 rebounds, and eight blocks is arguably his best as a Blue Devil.
Williams is beginning to provide a consistent inside presence for Duke like his predecessor Carlos Boozer who really began to improve during his sophomore season. He's also giving head coach Mike Krzyzewski the kind of interior defender that many Duke fans have longed for over the years.
Depending on what happens in Chapel Hill between Connecticut and North Carolina, the Blue Devils will enter next week ranked either #1 in the nation or #2. First up in the new week will be a trip to College Park and the Comcast Center to face off against Maryland, which has played very well at times this year.
Last season Duke played well at times at Comcast, but eventually became too tentative on the offensive end due to the environment and tough play of the Terrapin seniors. This trip will give Coach K an idea of how far his team has come mentally as Gary Williams' home court is one of the most daunting in the nation.