Very little went right tonight on the offensive end. Sure J.J. Redick's late game heroics gave Duke fans a sliver of hope, it wasn't enough to offset a horrific shooting night. Nor was it enough to help Duke overcome a terrible showing in the rebounding department. It wasn't enough to do all of that, and it wasn't enough to give Duke the edge over an opponent who got every big shot to fall.
In truth the Blue Devils were lucky to escape the first half with only a 10 point deficit after connecting on just 9-of-30 shots, and being out-rebounded 22-9. However, a Redick three as time expired sent Duke into halftime with some apparent momentum, which carried over into the second half in the form of a 14-6 run to close within 42-40. At that point State dug in and seemed to hit each and every big shot down the stretch.
Perhaps the best thing about this game was the way in which the Blue Devils fought back in the last two minutes to make a game of it going down the stretch. It was very reminiscent of last year's game at State when Duke rallied late, only to be turned away when it counted most.
The Devils also managed to knock down 18-of-21 from the free throw line on the night despite some high pressure situations.
What Went Wrong:
In the post game press conference Mike Krzyzewski said the team is still dealing with the emotional strain of the UNC game, as well as some bumps and bruises from the game against Virginia. That was most evident in the form of Shelden Williams, who was held to just four points and seven rebounds while playing on that injured right hip.
With Williams hindered (and ineffective), Duke couldn't find a serviceable replacement in the post – this allowed State to get key second chance points and a number of easy baskets. Most notably there was no help when the ball was driven into the lane, allowing players like Hodge, Melvin, and Etimov to shoot over smaller defenders. Having a full strength Williams on the floor able to alter these shots would have been incredibly beneficial.
While State's defense did give Duke trouble in the half court set, it surely didn't force the Devils to miss several point blank shots including, at one point, four attempts with six feet during a three minute stretch. In short it was a very cold shooting night when the Devils certainly needed a big lift from the perimeter.
The mental fatigue mentioned by Krzyzewski was also visible as Duke never was able to match a very hungry and motivated opponent. Too often the Devils seemed methodical if on both ends of the floor while the Pack sent numerous players diving and battling for every loose ball. To the untrained eye it looked like the NC State players wanted this one the most and did what they had to do.
It seemed as if the team reverted back to trying to out-score State in the second half instead of winning with defense.
On the glass Duke was simply beaten by, statistically, the worst rebounding team in the conference. And they were beaten by a substantial (35-27) margin. Again this only highlights the importance of Shelden Williams in the post.
Player of the Game:
For his effort that saw a near miracle comeback including 28 big points, the player of the game honor goes to sophomore sharp shooter J.J. Redick.
Things certainly don't get any easier for the Devils as a road trip to Winston Salem to face a newly revamped Wake Forest squad is on tap for Wednesday night. Duke will certainly need a much better effort on the interior and on the glass to have any hopes of avoiding a second consecutive loss on the season. With Jamal Levy and Eric Williams on the front line, a healed Williams and improved Deng becomes a necessity.
If rebounding at Wake isn't tough enough, the Blue Devils then get to host Maryland on Sunday night in Cameron. Clearly we'll learn a lot about this team over the next week. Sitting in second place at 10-3 is certainly possible in a week's time. Of course they've been knocked down before, only to rebound in a hostile environment (Michigan State) and then go on a pretty good run. Hopefully they'll respond once again.