We were a bit concerned about this game for three reasons: 1) the quick turnaround from Thursday's game; 2) Tech's significant improvement lately, including a near upset of Maryland, and 3) the first game, where there was some bad blood.
In the first half, the quick turnaround seemed to bother Duke, and they were disjointed, a fact which gave Tech hope and inspiration for a time. But then Duke went on a little run and pushed the score out 6 points, then 8, then at halftime 14. You know the basic script here.
After the half, Tech basically had a window they could exploit to get back in the game, but Duke continued to pile it on, and in short order, the lead was 24. That was pretty much the end of it. But still, how it happened was really pretty: Duke played stifling defense and started shooting lights out. Three pointers came from just about anywhere, and some of the assists were gorgeous.
Tech kept fighting, but you could see, fairly obviously, they knew they were done for. Still, they were a better, more coherent team than Duke saw in Durham, and Schenscher adds a really nice element to the team. And it should be obvious to anyone who watched that Ed Nelson is improving rapidly, and has a lot of guts. He's in the vein (right now anyway) of a young Dave Cowens sort. He's only credited with four boards in this game, but he's a guy who is willing to run through walls to get them, and that's nice to see, actually.
For Duke, the big players continue to be Williams, Dunleavy, and Boozer, and all three had solid games, though not flawless ones. Williams scored 28 points but had 6 turnovers, which is way too much for a player of his talent. Boozer was perfect from the floor but tanked from the foul line, hitting 25% (1-4). Dunleavy, though, is becoming our favorite players to watch. It's like seeing a baby bird hatch - a Larry Bird.
Did you ever have a kid in your neighborhood or school who was a really skilled player, but who just wasn't physically talented enough? One who always was in the right place and who never missed an open jumper? Dunleavy is far beyond that level - way beyond - but he's that kid, all grown up. He's becoming an imposing defender, which we never imagined he would. We thought he was capable, but we weren't sure. Here's what we said before his freshman year:
Another very key freshman who will have to play early is Mike Dunleavy. Like Horvath, and more precisely Sanders, he is pretty skinny. More like really skinny. And his athletic ability is sometimes doubted. But we saw this kid in the McDonald's game, and a) he understands the geometry of the game, and b) he is smart as hell. We saw him make about two plays, one a steal and the other an exquisitely timed block which relied on a precise angle near the top of the key. The steal took a significant amount of guile and deception, as he delayed long enough to deceive the passer and then rushed up to halfcourt to knock the ball away. Those two plays opened our eyes. Like Horvath, he is a very good shooter. He has a keen understanding of the game, especially offensively. The questions we have are on defense.
And then prior to his sophomore year:
One coach told us over the summer that Dunleavy was going to explode this season, that he would have 30 point games and be possibly the best player in the country. Wow! From all accounts he has continued to grow and has put on weight. Last season, before he came down with mono, Dunleavy was a fascinating player. In some games he was just devastating - particularly in running games. Enjoy him on the break. Get on the edge of your seat when he's out there. At other times his shot abandoned him and he seemed to make poor decisions. But that's freshmen stuff. The real problem he had last year was he was so thin. In halfcourt games he could disappear, and of course he got muscled a lot. Yet he still snuck in and got rebounds in the crowd. Dunleavy has a natural intellect for the game which will only look better as his body catches up. We still think back on his astonishing game against USC as an indicator of what he is capable of - dominating the game like Bird. We're not saying he's Bird. But he's got some Bird in him.
What has surprised us about Dunleavy's development is how much adding strength has added to his athleticism. He's doing things now we never thought we'd see him do, primarily meaning defense, but also plays like that dunk against FSU. Any questions we had about his defensive abilities are now trivial.
Dahntay Jones, who has been on a tear lately, appeared to be frustrated and annoyed during the game. He still rang up 12 points and challenged Tech's defenders. And Chris Duhon continues to become more assertive offensively, which can only help.
The bench rotation now offers up Daniel Ewing and Nick Horvath first, and we're glad to see Nick getting some time. He's had a really difficult time getting his practice time in, and that's affected everything, but we've always thought that he was a smart player, and a kid who contribute a lot. He'll help enormously if he's healthy - and in the groove.
For the game, Duke held Tech to 35% and shot 55% themselves, and that's a big gap to overcome. Duke also gave Tech what for in the backcourt: Akins and Lewis scored no 3 pointers at all. Duke outrebounded Tech, as they should - leave Schenscher out, and Tech is quite small. Duke had 19 turnovers to Tech's 18 - ugh - but here is the key stat of the game: Duke hit 13 threes to Tech's 4 - and shot 54% from behind the line.
Just a note - Schenscher had 3 steals and 4 blocks against the #1 team in the country. That's pretty impressive when you stop and think about it.
All in all, the first half was somewhat sluggish, but the second half, in spots, was remarkable.