Duke Escapes Irish

As we expected, Notre Dame gave Duke a tremendous game. We thought they would for a few reasons: 1) Mike Brey is an exceptionally gifted coach; 2) they have a rising star in Chris Thomas, who runs his team very well; 3) a tough-minded team offensively and defensively.  We heard that they had lost something like 10 games by a combined total of 42 points, meaning that they lost by an average of  about 4.2 points.

As we expected, Notre Dame gave Duke a tremendous game. We thought they would for a few reasons: 1) Mike Brey is an exceptionally gifted coach; 2) they have a rising star in Chris Thomas, who runs his team very well; 3) a tough-minded team offensively and defensively.  We heard that they had lost something like 10 games by a combined total of 42 points, meaning that they lost by an average of  about 4.2 points.

Notre Dame started off in a triangle and two in an attempt to force players other than Williams, Dunleavy and Boozer to score.  Dahntay Jones only scored 8. Chris Duhon scored 13, more than he often does. Daniel Ewing, though, came off the bench for 18 huge points, including 4 three pointers which, given the level of interior defense that Notre Dame played, was crucial, because Notre Dame's goal was to frustrate Duke's stars, and to a great extent, they succeeded: Dunleavy was 3-8, Williams was 5-18, and Boozer was - shocking! - 5-10.  Seriously, though, with the tear he has been on lately, 50% is quite a dropoff!

So Ewing's calm and collected play was huge. What's the deal with the rookie?

Well, quite simply, he's a winner.  Most of you know he played high school ball with T.J. Ford of Texas, and you can understand why that was a great, great high school team.  What became clear to us early on this year though was that Ewing is, quite simply, a winner.  Some players just Get It.  Bobby Hurley was like that.  We saw him in the McDonald's game, and his team shot ahead every time he was on the court.  Ewing has a lot to prove to be in that class, but his instincts are there.  He just makes smart plays at the right time, and he's done it all year.  People will say next year - rightly - that there's no replacing Jason Williams, but he won't be asked to be Jason Williams.  He'll be his own player, and he'll continue to improve.

Notre Dame, as we said and as you likely saw, backed down not a whit and wasn't intimidated by Duke's name or reputation.  For most of the game, we thought they were the better team defensively (and offensively for that matter).  The frustration showed in numerous ways: Dunleavy traveled on a drive, then ended up airborne under the basket with nowhere to go with the ball, and threw it right to a Notre Dame defender.  You could see Jason trying to get going, and maybe his hip made it more difficult (he bruised it and then aggravated it again in recent days).  Between them, they had 11 turnovers - more than half of Duke's total (Jones also had 4, meaning that the rest of the team had only 4 turnovers for a total of 19, including Daniel Ewing stepping on the line twice).

Boozer also got into serious foul trouble, as did Williams.  Williams ended up sitting down on defensive plays at the end, while Boozer fouled out.

In the second half, the trap Notre Dame set seemed to be working: Duke's stars were frustrated, and in foul trouble, and inside scoring and defense took a hit when Boozer went out. 

That was the theory anyway.  Didn't quite work out that way.  Largely because of the brilliant game by Daniel Ewing, but also including the superb play off the bench of Casey Sanders, who had a wonderful game, Duke pushed back.  There were times this season when Duke didn't fight back in these types of situations as well as one might have liked, but Saturday, they outgutted a Notre Dame team down the stretch, saw their lives pass before their eyes, in the words of Mike Brey, and they found their heart.

Duhon had, overall, an excellent defensive game, but he let Chris Thomas get baseline on him to take the lead at 49-48.  Next play, Boozer picked up his third foul, and things looked dark for a bit.

Notre Dame pulled ahead by 7, 69-62, when Daniel Ewing found Casey Sanders for a dunk. The next trip down, Casey kept the ball alive on a rebound and Dunleavy got fouled.  For Casey, that kind of set the tone.

Ewing came down when Notre Dame was up 71-66 and had just drawn Jason's 4th foul and nailed an absolutely clutch three pointer from the corner.  Suddenly, it was a two point game.

Duhon was fouled after Carlos Boozer blocked a shot and hit his free throws to tie the game. Notre Dame never led again.  After Boozer's block, he had a tremendous rebound after sloppy Notre Dame shot and made a beautiful outlet pass, but unfortunately Dunleavy traveled.  Ewing forced a turnover after a Notre Dame timeout.  After the TV timeout, Boozer hit a left handed jumphook.  Notre Dame tied it again at 73-73, and again at 75-75, but from there on out it was Duke's defense and free throws and missed shots by Notre Dame.

In another year or two, Notre Dame will be making those kinds of plays work, but Saturday, Duke's experience carried the day.  Nonetheless, this is a program with a keen sense of direction now, and a tremendous coach.  We really only have one criticism of Notre Dame, and while we don't normally say things like this, it's hard not to in this case:

If Ryan Humphries is not a dirty player, he surely was in this game.  Look at the tape:

  • Humphreys: smacks Jones  at the 17:48 mark.
  • Humphreys throws Dunleavy down at the 3:08 mark - in front of the ref!
  • Humphreys & Swanagan both took shots at Dunleavy at around the :40 second mark.
  • Humphreys hits Williams at the :26 mark. 
  • Humphreys pulls Dunleavy down by the shoulder & arm, then hits him in the back of the head when he gets up (that's where he got the technical).
  • Humphreys smacked Dunleavy in the face at 5:08 on a rebound.

These were not little ticky-tack cheap shots.  Some of them were downright dangerous, most egregiously the takedown on Jason Williams. If you watch the tape, you can see Humphries threw his arm across Williams' chest or throat, pulling him backwards hard enough to make Jason's head jerk.  

The various attacks on Dunleavy were also troubling at times.  The last one listed saw a Humphries forearm end up on or around Dunleavy's face, and the throwdown of Dunleavy at the 3:08 move belonged more to The Rock than to college basketball.  Finally, look at the one where Humphries actually got busted: he pulled Dunleavy down by his arm and shoulder and threw him on the floor - and when Dunleavy got up, popped him in the back of the head.

It's become clear in recent games that opposing teams have decided that getting rough with Dunleavy is a way to attack Duke.  Physical play is part of the game, and in a basic sense, we don't have a problem with it. Duke uses Boozer against thinner players in a similar way. But what Humphries did to Dunleavy in this game was roughly akin to what a hockey goon does, with this crucial difference: in hockey, enforcers are there to protect smaller players who are hammered by bigger guys.  Most of what Humphreys did seemed calculated to intimidate.  In that sense, we don't think it worked - Dunleavy got 9 rebounds, so it's not like he shied away from contact - but he took a beating. On several occasions, he raised his arms immediately to show that he wasn't retaliating, which was smart.

We hope that if this happens again this year, Duke will send Matt Christensen in long enough to throw one or two serious elbows.  Dunleavy's taking a lot of abuse, and we'd love it if someone hit back hard.  This is not a normal thing for us, but it's becoming increasingly blatant, and it might help to send a sharp message.

As you probably know, Duke will face Indiana in the Sweet 16 in Lexington, meaning the locals will have to choose between hating Duke and hating Indiana.  Our guess is we win that hands down.


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