From the Stands: Duke-96, Alabama St-61

The Blue Devils opened the 2004 NCAA Tournament with an easy blowout victory over the Alabama State Hornets. In a game that was never in doubt Duke's main objectives were advancing without any injuries and to get a few players back on track. <I>TheDevilsDen.com</I> takes a look at what went right, wrong, and looks ahead to round two.

What Went Right:

No matter the opponent, the Blue Devils' main priority was to survive and advance to the next round. They accomplished that with ease as the Hornets never presented anything other than a formality on Thursday night. However that was the last ‘sure thing' the Blue Devils can look forward to as they now move on to face top teams every time out.

Aside from getting everyone out of the game without injury, Duke's main goals were to get J.J. Redick to break out of his recent shooting slump, and get some kind of production out of sophomore big man Shavlik Randolph. Redick did manage to have a good six- minute stretch in which he hit some threes and seemed to be back to the shooter of earlier in the season, though he's still coming up very short on his misses.

Meanwhile Randolph led the team with 20 points and eight rebounds. Granted Alabama State's front line was either woefully short, or not on the ACC level, but it was good to see Randolph not shying away from contact in the lane and exploding to the basket. More often than not he got fouled and had to earn his points at the line. However it was a nice change from the player who seemed unsure how to create in the lane in the ACC Tournament. Duke will certainly need him to put up a similar effort going forward.

The offense could basically get whatever Duke wanted throughout the game, and early on the Blue Devils realized that there was no defense when the ball went inside. So Duke quickly began to exploit that. At times the team has seemed unwilling to work to their advantages, and have not been balanced. Despite the lack of a challenge it's a positive to see this team staying disciplined.

The ball movement was very good as Duke logged 19 assists, the most in nearly three weeks. Also improved was the free throw shooting, though it tapered off late for a respectable 23-of-31 (.742). Had that percentage been shot Sunday there would have been a much different result.

As a team the Blue Devils dominated the much smaller Hornets on the glass, 44-21. Perhaps the best result there had to do with the amount of rebounds brought in by the guards (15), including 10 by Redick and Ewing alone. Crashing the boards will be big against either Arizona or Seton Hall.

What Went Wrong:

It's troubling to see Duhon still unable to go at full strength. The senior was certainly being saved for the second round and, hopefully, beyond, though it was troubling to see his rib injuries still playing this big of a role in his effectiveness. Hopefully another day will make the injuries heal enough to get that extra step back.

Sloppy play early seemed to also be a minor concern as Duke turned it over 14 times though many were simply being unable to grab loose balls.

Player of the Game:

For breaking out of a long slump and hopefully gaining some new confidence going into the second round, our TDD player of the game is Shavlik Randolph. The 6-foot-10 sophomore ended the game with 20 points, eight rebounds, and two steals in just 25 minutes of action.

Looking Ahead:

With Arizona looking like the probable opponent on Saturday afternoon, the Blue Devils need to make sure they get rested and a bit healthier as the Cats love to run and have proven as talented as anyone in the country. With the anti-Duke sentiment at an all time high, it's likely that Lute Olsen's group will be out for blood, and to make their season with a win over top seeded Duke.

Despite a less than spectacular performance all season long, the Cats have one of the most talented starting fives in the country and are incredibly quick and athletic. However there have been problems with teamwork and heart throughout the year, though that doesn't figure to be a problem against Duke, which will need to play smart and efficiently on the offensive end while getting back to high intensity ball pressure on defense.

It will be crucial to get good looks from the field and to not allow Shelden Williams to get into early foul trouble. He, along with Luol Deng and Randolph will need to come to play inside against Arizona's Frye. If Duke can get into the Arizona bench then things will likely go their way, however if it comes down to a run and gun shootout, the Blue Devils may be in trouble.


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