Survive and advance is the theme that every team must subscribe to when March rolls around. That's what Duke was able to do despite some patches of ugly play, that saw the Cavaliers able to slow the pace of the game to the point of being competitive, though obviously overmatched.
Duke got a big lift in the first half from reigning tournament MVP Daniel Ewing, who hit for 18 of his 26 in the opening period including 13 straight Blue Devil points midway through the half. The second half saw another Blue Devil score 18 points as Shelden Williams found his inside scoring game, and continually scored in the paint.
The desire and effort to continually find the big guy inside was a welcomed change from past games when Duke would seemingly settle for outside shots when Williams was as strong with the ball or his demands for it. When Duke is able to put together the balanced attack of Williams inside and the perimeter threats outside, they return to the form of the team who rolled through any and all comers midway through the year.
Duke also showed the confidence of a team who's "been there before" by calmly converting 21-of-24 free throws down the stretch including 10-of-11 from Williams, who continually earned trips to the line. For the game Duke was able to hit 27-of-32 attempts for 84.4%. Coach K's troops were also patient with their offense, resulting in a 25-of-50 shooting night.
Defensively Duke adjusted to the game's flow and though the Cavaliers were able to stay within striking distance, the Blue Devils' high pressure defense (when applied) yielded 11 steals, and 11 blocks while forcing 18 Virginia turnovers.
It was also good to see Coach K able to steal some critical minutes from Nick Horvath and Lee Melchionni, both of whom will prove more and more valuable as Duke tries to navigate through the choppy waters of the tournament.
What Went Wrong:
Duke was out-rebounded by Virginia 32-29, including 11 offensive boards by the Cavaliers, many during crucial times. Heading into a match up with Georgia Tech it will be crucial for the Devils to hit the boards and corral those loose balls which can lead to easy second chance points.
Duke also had trouble making the extra passes that have become commonplace to the Blue Devil offense. In the end there were only 10 assists logged against 16 turnovers.
Defensively there were once again a few lulls that allowed Virginia to have easy looks for seven or eight straight possessions. While the Cavalier offense wasn't enough to hurt Duke too much, moving forward it would seem likely that each future opponent could turn those mid-game lulls into 14-2 or 13-4 runs capable of swinging the game's ultimate outcome.
Player of the Game:
Despite Ewing's great first half performance, it was probably more important for the future success of the team for Shelden Williams to find his offensive game en route to a career best 27 points. Duke will absolutely need him to bring that same kind of performance in the semifinal match-up and beyond.
There's no time to rest as Duke returns tomorrow against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who beat North Carolina in the second quarterfinal match-up of the day. There is certainly plenty of motivation for the Devils after Tech ended a number of streaks in the teams' last meeting in Cameron.
To be successful this time around, Coach K's troops will need another big performance out of the inside game on both ends as Tech's big Australian center has been able to look like an All-American in the previous meetings due to foul trouble on Williams. Ball pressure and help defense will also be crucial as the Jackets are very good at exploiting defensive mistakes.
Duke will also be looking for leading scorer J.J. Redick to break out of his recent slump in a big way, while hoping freshman Luol Deng comes out on a mission to erase the memories of his last game against Paul Hewitt's club (1-of-14 from the field).