Despite the Blue Devils' struggling with their jump shots early, Duke was never challenged, and took the Rockets completely out of their comfort zones with stifling defense. In total, the Devils forced 18 turnovers including nine steals, while blocking 11 shots. Toledo was also held to just 35% shooting from the field and was out-rebounded 51-32 on the evening.
Part of the reason for the stellar defense was Duke's improved defensive rotation. When the guards were beat, they would jockey their men into the middle where another Blue Devils would rotate over for the block or shot alteration. Despite a limited bench, Coach K still has his team utilizing the full court press in spurts, sending the plethora of wings and guards up and down the floor while allowing the big guys to camp out in the defensive lane on the inbounds and catch a breather.
Given that the backcourt is full of high intensity on the ball defenders, the Blue Devils can produce a surprising amount of full court pressure while spelling the big men – something that wasn't expected in the preseason. The result was Duke out-scoring Toledo 17-9 in points off turnovers, and an 8-2 advantage in fast break points.
Inside, Shelden Williams was once again very good for Duke. The 6'9 junior led the team with 18 points and 15 rebounds, while blocking six shots in 30 minutes of action. While Williams was back to his productive ways, the Blue Devils got a boost when Shavlik Randolph showed flashes of the player many expected early in the season off the bench. After being benched to start, Randolph responded with 12 points, six rebounds, and four blocks in 20 minutes of action. As a team Duke owned the paint with a 44-26 advantage in points in the paint.
After the game, head coach Mike Krzyzewski speculated that Randolph may jump back into the starting lineup soon after the night's performance. Either way there was a noticeable difference in the junior big forward. He was aggressive on the offensive end, and actively looked to attack the basket and played "big" – something that had been lacking over the previous four games.
The Blue Devils also got a boost off the bench from freshman DeMarcus Nelson (8 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists) and senior Reggie Love (4 points, 7 rebounds) in both rebounding and scoring. Though Nelson's shooting hand is still limited with a brace, he's finally getting comfortable in the offense and appears ready to contribute on a consistent basis. At just 6'3 he's arguably the team's third best rebounder, and though his jump shot is still AWOL (thanks in large part to being unable to grip the ball), he's finding ways to score. Meanwhile, Love is rounding into the eighth solid contributor on the roster thanks to his natural athleticism. While he's mainly on the roster for rebounding, he logged a pair of highlight jams on Sunday.
Though their jump shots weren't falling for most of the game, the Blue Devils did manage to do well at the foul line, hitting 17-of-21 on the night for 81%. Other positives included Daniel Ewing's all around game. The senior converted point guard hit for 13 points and six assists against two turnovers in just 26 minutes.
What Went Wrong
Duke came out extremely flat and quickly fell behind 10-2 thanks to poor shot selection and little defensive intensity. It was what many expected after the Blue Devils had reduced practice time due to exams, but the jump shooting was just tough to watch for many in Cameron. The perimeter jumpers were especially bad as Duke shot just 26% for the game.
Also, the Christmas Vacation break was evident in the makeup of the Crazies as several less coordinated fans made up the vaunted crowd. Without the group that made things rough on Michigan State, the atmosphere in Cameron was certainly a couple of steps down from the past, despite Coach K's achievement.
Player of the Game
Despite the jumpers not falling early, Duke's offense kept chugging along thanks to the inside play of Shelden Williams. The Duke big guy converted several interior chances and owned the boards en route to another double-double. For his efforts, Williams is our TDD player of the game.
The rust that plagued Duke early on is hopefully worn off as a dangerous Illinois-Chicago team comes calling to Cameron on Tuesday. The Flames have been up and down this season, but showed the ability to put a scare into bigger programs, by coming within a last second bucket of upsetting No. 3 Georgia Tech early in the season. Since that time UIC has looked less imposing, but do feature the ability to play shutdown defense and can force their opponents into tough and tightly contested affairs. After fighting the Flames, the Blue Devils deliver Coach K's 701st victory, it's then up to Madison Square Garden to face Oklahoma.