Duke played about as poorly as could be expected in the first half, giving Oklahoma every possible chance to slam the door shut on them. Still, the Blue Devils were down just 10 at the half, and quickly rallied in the second half with a poise that is reflects this team's history of playing in and winning big games. Duke turned up the defensive intensity and kept running the offense, eventually erasing the lead and forcing the Sooners to play at a pace they weren't comfortable with. After allowing the Sooners to shoot 45% in the first half, Duke held OU to just 9-of-30 in the second period while improving their shooting to a blistering 62% in the second half.
The big three of J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams, and Daniel Ewing all once again logged productive nights at the office with Redick scoring 17 second half points to lead the way with 26. Ewing added 17 points and five assists, while Williams logged another double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds. With so many questions surrounding the depth of Duke, these three simply cannot have off nights offensively. However, on Saturday, Duke got an unexpected lift from freshman DeMarcus Nelson and junior Sean Dockery on the offensive end of the floor. Nelson logged 11 points and five rebounds, while Dockery hit for 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting.
While many expect Nelson's production to continue to rise, the increased confidence in Dockery's offensive game is a surprising and welcomed addition to this group. Against the Sooners he looked confident and didn't hesitate to take the open looks when available, something he wouldn't have done a year ago. Heading into the conference season, Nelson still has yet to find his outside shooting touch, and is expected to have his brace removed from his shooting hand during the holiday break. If both he and Dockery can step up and offer similar numbers going forward, Duke will become a lot more versatile.
What Went Wrong:
Simply put, Duke needs another post presence to take the pressure off of Shelden Williams. Though Williams was able to avoid foul trouble, once Shavlik Randolph fouled out after just 14 minutes of action, Duke was down to just one player inside against the Sooners' pair of quality big men. Luckily for Duke the disparity in talent among the backcourt forced Oklahoma into a game that negated their advantage inside. That won't be the case going forward into the ACC.
It was certainly a troubling afternoon for Randolph, who logged his worst statistical performance of the year after playing well in his last game out. Perhaps the match up of Taj Gray wasn't going to translate into a big performance, or perhaps he got knocked on his heels early on, but Randolph was simply ineffective against the Sooners. The positive side is that the former McDonalds All-American has yet to display anything less than a full effort, and still seems on the verge of that ‘break out' performance. It was shown against UConn in the semifinals, and perhaps, it'll take another strong start to produce similar results this year. The question is how long can Duke wait?
The Blue Devils found themselves in a first half hole partly because the free throw shooting wasn't good. Aside from Redick's 8-of-9 tally at the charity stripe, Duke was just 12-of-21 from the line (57%).
The first half deficit also benefiting from poor shot selection and careless turnovers as Duke methodically trudged through the first 20 minutes, showing very few signs of life or intensity. It's a disturbing trend that has plagued this team for much of the season. True, with their fire power, Duke has the ability to go on big runs and make up ground, eventually taking the lead, but what happens when one of the big three is rendered ineffective? Will Duke be able to make up the ground needed? Not unless the start getting some more production from other sources, and not if they continue to fall behind so fast.
Player of the Game:
While both Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick are the trendy picks, Duke got a needed spark from both Dockery and Nelson. Both players stepped in and provided extra scoring punch, including a couple of big baskets when it seemed as though the Sooners were going to pull away. For their efforts, they are our TDD co-players of the game.
The team now departs for their various homes to celebrate Christmas, and then it's back to school for mini-camp where Coach K and the staff will be running two-a-day practices in hopes or working out the kinks before the Tigers become the first ‘new-look' ACC opponent for Duke. During that camp, look for much of the focus to center on Randolph, Nelson, Dockery, and McClure as Duke searches for another consistent offensive threat to off set the big three.