Despite some questionable officiating early coupled with some intense defensive pressure from Tech, the Blue Devils made a run to tie the game at 56 midway through the second half. Most of this run was done without the benefit of inside production and without a consistent scoring presence on the floor. In short it was grit and toughness that got them back into the game.
Duke also forced 24 turnovers and came away with 14 steals and six blocks on the night. Though the interior defense was porous for much of the second half, allowing Luke Schescher to look like an All-American, the overall effort was good at times during the game.
Other than that it just wasn't a good night to be a Blue Devil. In fact, it pretty much stunk.
What Went Wrong:
Early foul trouble on Shelden Williams was a huge set back for Duke's attempt to build any momentum since it forced Williams to the bench. Without the big guy in the lineup, the Blue Devils reverted to a more perimeter oriented offensive look, which didn't work well against Tech's athletic wings who were able to shadow the shooters with relative ease.
Questionable no calls ended up infuriating coach Mike Krzyzewski to the point of getting his first technical foul of the season. Instead of firing Duke up, it seemed to solidify Tech's confidence. In fact every time Duke would cut the lead to a workable margin, it seemed the Jackets would calmly knock down a three or hit a big shot in traffic.
The Duke pressure defense, which had been the calling card for much of the season, missed some key recoveries after missing the overplay, allowing a number of highlight reel dunks by the wide open Tech players. Much of this was due to William's being on the bench from the 15:30 mark of the second half with four fouls. Without him in the ball game, Tech simply got into the lane without threat or worry of a shot being blocked and confidence in the ability to get a rebound if needed.
With the defense not hitting its usual high level, Duke had to hope for a good night offensively. It didn't happen. In fact the Blue Devils had one of the worst shooting performances of the season, hitting just 34% of their shots from the field (24-of-70) and just 28% of the perimeter attempts (8-of-29). That was compounded by a 12-19 (63%) performance at the free throw line which included several key misses when Duke was able to cut the lead.
The reason for the poor shooting percentages is really two fold. For starters you have to give credit to Tech for not allowing many open looks. However many of the tough shots were due to some questionable shot attempts on Duke's part. Too often drives into the lane against three or four defenders would result in a wild attempt or a blocked shot. Many of these translating into quick baskets for Tech on the other end of the floor.
On the night the jackets shot 51% from the floor and out-rebounded Duke 41-38. Simply put, Duke is in need of some secondary toughness inside. The most likely candidate to step up has been Shavlik Randolph, and his newly added muscle. It's something Duke will hope to see moving forward when Williams gets into foul trouble.
The cold shooting night plagued everyone tonight, but bit freshman Luol Deng especially hard as the 6-foot-8 forward had his worst offensive game to date, scoring just three points on 1-of-14 shooting from the field and 0-of-4 from the perimeter. Many of his drives were rejected or just didn't fall, but you could tell he was getting frustrated. Thankfully he's the kind of player who's likely to shake it off going forward, and he'll likely try and forget this game as quickly as possible.
Player of the Game:
For giving Duke fans a reason to hope that they could pull out a win, and for logging a stat line of 11 points, seven assists, and an amazing seven steals, Chris Duhon is our TDD Player of the Game.
Duke has no time to sulk or wonder what might have been. In fact the Blue Devils face a ‘must-win' situation against a very dangerous, and likely hungry North Carolina squad this weekend. The first match up showed UNC's ability to play Duke evenly when they took a seven point lead late in the game before the Devils rebounded to win.
A similar performance to tonight will result in a potentially ugly result against the explosive Heels, and could even mean the loss of the ACC Tournament's top seed should NC State hang on against Maryland and then beat Wake Forest.
For Duke to be successful they will need to re-commit themselves to tough defense and rebounding. Offensively the Devils will need to look for a balanced attack as Redick is likely to be guarded by UNC's Manuel who, at 6-foot-6, gave him tremendous problems last time. If Duke can get some consistent scoring from Williams, and perhaps Randolph in the paint, then it'll give Deng, Ewing, and Duhon a chance to operate and create their offense when needed.
Overall you have to think that tonight's wake up call will serve to get Duke's attention, which will only help as Krzyzewski plans for the season finale against North Carolina. It's always an intense battle when these two meet, and for Duke there is a lot riding on this game. Look for a few intense practices to result in a much improved performance this weekend, hopefully.