At the beginning of the game, even announcer Gil McGregor, if we remember his name correctly, a Wake grad, was dismayed by Wake's play and suggested they hadn't showed up. Duke threatened to completely blow the game open and actually played some of their best ball of the year. In fact, the beginning of the game was almost inspirational: Duke looked like the Celtics, and Dunleavy did a passable imitation of Larry Bird, and Duke went up 27-7.
For whatever reason, though, their effectiveness waned after that, and Wake Forest seemed to have the momentum for the middle portion of the game, and went into halftime down only 39-35. Duke again had trouble getting a shot off at halftime.
Duke appeared to be tentative for a while, and turnovers and foolish errors gave Wake Forest a chance to get back into the game. They pulled to within one point at 51-50, but Songaila drew his fourth foul and sat down.
Not long after that, Daniel Ewing hit a 3, Wake scored, Duhon hit a 3, Broderick Hicks cut it back to 57-52, but then Duke scored 9 straight and that was pretty much the end of it.
For Duke, the good news is they have answered the bell when challenged in the ACC Tournament. The bad news is they haven't played at peak levels in either game. Some players have played extremely well, either in spots or for the entire game. Saturday, the best performance by a Duke player was by Carlos Boozer, who has raised his level of play to that of a champion. Carlos has figured out that he is the biggest kid on the block (Nigel Dixon is the block), and not just that, but he's the most fundamentally sound, by far. He shot 7-8 from the floor, 3-4 from the line, and pulled down 16 boards. Carlos has gotten a bad rap at times, partly because he followed a hugely talented player in Elton Brand, but he has carved out his own identity on the court, and he is, at this moment, a much more skilled player than Brand. That's not to say he's more effective, but his skills are really very refined.
Lately he has begun pouncing on rebounds like the bear tattooed on his arm. He's playing brilliant basketball, and he gives Duke hope against anyone in the country.
Daniel Ewing also had an excellent game, and was a true sparkplug off the bench. Dunleavy wasn't good the entire game, but he was ridiculous for part of the first half. When he's on his game, he's just scary good. Duhon was more aggressive at times than he is, and that's always helpful. Dahntay Jones played solid defense and had moments offensively. Jason Williams came through when it was winning time, and that's what he almost always does. Yet his game is still somewhat off. He had 7 turnovers (Duke only had three as a team in the game yesterday), for half of Duke's total, and at times seemed to lack his normal aggression.
Nick Horvath has carved out a spot doing dirty work - playing defense, rebounding, and being a smart presence on the court. He is still doing that, and has helped the team a great deal.
A telling stat in this game was fouls: Darius Songaila can be relied on to foul out most of the time, or certainly to be in foul trouble, and Antwan Scott is still fundamentally unsound and error-prone. However, after you subtract their 9 fouls from Wake's total, Duke only drew 11 fouls.
We're not sure what to make of Duke's recent play, but the 14 turnovers and the relatively low number of foul shots tend to suggest a lack of (at least) consistent aggression. When this team is fully aggressive, it does things like it did in the first part of the first half. When it's not there, they are in dangerous territory.
With a hot and very confident (and might we add hot shooting) State team up tomorrow, Duke has to play their game the entire game if they hope to win. This is not the State team we saw earlier this year, and this may not be the Duke team we would like to see. We're happy to be in the finals, but an inconsistent effort won't beat this Wolfpack team. Not the way they're playing.