From The Stands: Duke v. MSU

The Blue Devils' first big test of the season came Tuesday night against No. 9 Michigan State in Cameron. The result? A big Duke victory propelled by the tremendous efforts of J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing in the backcourt. <i></I> takes a look at the night that was and offers opinions on what went right, wrong, and looks ahead to Chicago.

What Went Right

After starting the game strong, Duke quickly fell behind by 10 early and looked totally out of sync and Michigan State began to get easy buckets while racing to a 19-9 advantage. Rather than panic and become and exclusively perimeter oriented team, Duke spent the next few minutes running the offense and finding open looks for Redick, who had the hot hand in the first half. Those open looks translated throughout the evening as Duke shot a very efficient 26-of-51 from the field and 11-of-20 from the perimeter.

Much of the reason for Redick's first half success was his ability to put the ball on the floor and create his shot. Last year the 6'4 junior was content to fire up threes, this year he's scoring from all over the court.

Meanwhile Ewing has finally been realized as Duke's best all around player. After showing flashes of quiet brilliance over the last three years, the senior is finally getting the respect he deserves. While splitting time at both guard positions, Ewing managed to log game highs in points (29) and assists (6), while committing just one turnover in 38 minutes of action. More importantly he didn't hesitate to step up and take the big shots when it seemed as though the Spartans were poised to make a run.

While the backcourt was terrific, the Blue Devils also got key plays from the big men at crucial points. While neither Shavlik Randolph nor Shelden Williams had a particularly huge game, both came through with clutch plays down the stretch. Randolph logged a big block when Shannon Brown had a clear lane to the basket with Duke up just five, while Williams played with four fouls for the final five minutes and still managed to pull down four of his 12 rebounds in the final moments, limiting the Spartans to one shot possessions.

As was the case throughout most of the game, statistics didn't tell the complete story for several Duke players. Perhaps the best example was Sean Dockery who's line of four points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists doesn't seem to be anything to write home about. However, Dockery's lone field goal came with Duke clinging to a one point lead and looking ready to collapse. He also relieved Ewing of the ball handing duties and played the "Duhon" to Ewing's "Williams" while playing a career best 36 minutes.

While the team on the court was playing well, the "sixth man" off the court was in rare form on Tuesday, earning a walk off salute from Coach K. Cameron was better last night than at any time last year in our opinion. Hats off to the Crazies.

What Went Wrong

Despite the terrific performances from the guard, Duke was simply not a balanced offensive team last night, something that must develop as the ACC season draws closer. Part of it was Michigan State's gamble of forcing Duke to win from the perimeter, part of it was Duke's ineffectiveness in the lane.

Shavlik Randolph took just three shots (one from the perimeter), and finished with four points, four rebounds, and three blocks in 22 minutes. Shelden Williams also struggled with his offense, scoring 10 points (4-of-11 shooting), but did manage 12 rebounds and five blocks, which countered his five turnovers. For Duke to be successful this season the two big men must be more productive, and it starts with making a conscience effort to get the ball inside and then looking for kick outs.

However, it's a two way street and both Williams and Randolph could stand to improve finishing plays near the basket. That starts with reps in the game, and that requires the ball being posted and then re-posted time and time again. When the ACC schedule arrives, the Devils won't be able to rely solely on big nights from Redick and Ewing. It'll be crucial that Duke can expect at least 25 points and 18 rebounds from the big guys per night.

Player of the Game

On this night it's a no brainer. J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing took turns carrying this team throughout the game. The duo scored 58 points on 19-of-32 shooting from the field including 10-of-16 from beyond the arc. For their efforts, Redick and Ewing are our TDD co-players of the game.

Final Analysis

With four games down it's clear that this Duke team is still a work in progress, but there has been dramatic improvement in that time. Beating a top ten opponent is nothing to sneeze at, no matter the circumstances. Perhaps the most encouraging thought to take away from this game is that last year's team probably would have lost last night. That team was notorious for not being able to hold onto leads late in the game, and it seemed as though Cameron was headed for the kind of disappointment felt in the ACC Finals and Final Four a year ago. Duke saw a big lead evaporate to just one, giving the Spartans momentum and a real shot at winning. However, unlike last year, this group of Blue Devils remained calm and stuck to the game plan resulting in a victory.

Looking Ahead

With the first major test of the season behind them, Duke travels to Chicago to take on Valparaiso on Saturday. After that it's a week off before hosting Toledo. Look for Duke to work on balancing out the offensive flow and establishing Williams and Randolph earlier.

Also, freshman DeMarcus Nelson is expected to have his brace removed from him thumb during games by the time of the Toledo game. To date Nelson has been hindered by the apparatus and has been unable to grip the ball when attempting to shoot.

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