After struggling offensively early on this year, the Blue Devils more efficient than they had been in a long time Saturday. Duke shot a sizzling 66% from the floor including an incredible 72% from the field in the second half. The reason for all the success was Duke's willingness to start the offense by looking inside and then working out.
In particular, Shelden Williams showed an expanded offensive game – hitting several mid range jumpers when matched up against a bigger opponent (6'10, 310lbs Kenny Harris). When Harris was forced to the sideline for a breather, Williams went back to his power game, receiving the ball and then finishing with power at the rim. Williams' ability to seal off his man and then drop step for the dunk, was a welcomed site for many Duke fans, who have wondered if the post play would solidify and begin to play big.
The Blue Devils also attacked the basket with renewed vigor, leading to several lay-ups and several trips to the line. Most notable was freshman DeMarcus Nelson, who logged a career high 17 points on the afternoon thanks to a strong body that allowed him to get into the lane and finish close to the rim. Had he been able to shoot a respectable percentage at the free throw line (4-of-9 for 44%), Nelson would have eclipsed the 20 point plateau. They key for him will be getting the brace, which compromises his release on his jump shot, off. When that happens, Nelson will add another element to his game for Coach K.
Defensively it was another high intensity effort for a group that has apparently embraced the idea of being a defensive team first. Duke forced 21 turnovers, including 10 steals, and held the Crusaders under 40% shooting before calling off the dogs midway through the second period.
What Went Wrong
The inconsistent play continues to hound the frontcourt for long spells, and it spilled over again Saturday as Shavlik Randolph made a terrific initial play and then picked up a few fouls that sent him to the bench and took him completely out of the game. While Reggie Love came in and provided some quality relief, it's going to be up to Randolph to learn to stay away from foul trouble. As one fellow onlooker opined: "It's not that the third foul was a bad foul, it's that the first two weren't good, which made the third one so crucial."
With Duke down to just one big man, Valparaiso big man Dan Oppland went to work, torching Duke for 21 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes of action. The Blue Devils also logged a season low 31 rebounds and just four blocked shots while playing a vertically challenged lineup for much of the time Randolph was out. As has been the constant theme throughout this year: Duke must have both Randolph and Williams in the game as much as possible.
There were some minor problems with the offense getting sloppy at various points, as Duke turned the ball over 16 times, including a shot clock violation towards the end of the first half, however those concerns were more of the Blue Devils playing down to their opponent than a cause for serious concern.
Player of the Game:
Though freshman Nelson logged a career high, it was once again the shooting of junior J.J. Redick that got Duke into a comfortable position. Redick followed up his 29 point barrage against Michigan State with 26 points (8-of-13 shooting, 3-of-5 from three) against the Crusaders. For his efforts Redick is once again TDD's player of the game.
The Blue Devils now get a week off to finish up final exams before hosting a struggling Toledo team next Sunday in Cameron. With the ACC season beginning very soon, the Blue Devils must find some kind of consistent production from Randolph as well as the other key players. The key will be playing the big guys and making sure they can stay out of foul trouble.
Still, heading into the end of the year, the Duke coaching staff has to be happy with the team's progression as they've continued to battle and now sit at 5-0 on the year and firmly entrenched in the top 10.