Sure it was an ugly game to watch. No, the Blue Devils didn't play overly well on the offensive side of the ball. And, no, Duke didn't run and gun as they had in the preseason where scoring 100 points per game was repetition more than anything else. Instead Duke ran into a team with a solid game plan and was forced to adjust on the fly.
After the initial shock of watching their wide open looks not fall, the Blue Devils cranked up the defensive effort and quickly took a close game and put the outcome away from any doubt despite a woeful offensive showing. Duke forced 26 turnovers in all, which led to 32 points while their opponents were only able to come away with 10 TOs and eight points.
Several Duke turnovers were simply pass attempts that ended up over the baseline – resulting in dead ball situations that allowed the defense to reset and pressure the Terriers. On the other end, Duke was harassing the Boston guards from the time they received the ball in the backcourt which forced a number of steals – including seven by sophomore DeMarcus Nelson.
With Nelson making his mark on the defensive end, it was J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams shouldering the load on the offensive side of the ball. Redick realized early that the Terriers weren't going to give him any looks from long range, and his shot wasn't falling anyway. So, rather than force the perimeter jumpers as he had in years past, Redick put the ball on the floor and showcased his midrange jumper while mixing in a number of dribble drives that earned him easy buckets or trips to the free throw line – where he actually missed a pair of attempts. Meanwhile Williams was efficient inside (when he actually got the ball in the paint), over-powering the Terriers en route to a 17 point opening night. Williams also added seven rebounds and two blocks.
Another positive was the play of heralded rookie Josh McRoberts, who showed why he was considered the best prospect to come to college out of the class of 2005. The 6-foot-10 lefty did a little bit of everything in his first public showcase – he rebounded (10 boards in all), ran the high-low with Williams to perfection, handled the ball, and scored inside when given the chance. The only downside was his inability to finish what would have a been a SportsCenter Top 10 dunk over two Terrier defenders.
What Went Wrong
Offensively Duke just couldn't convert, despite getting a number of good looks at the basket. In the post game it seemed as though Coach K believed his team was trying to play up to their lofty preseason ranking more than concentrating on what they had been working on in practice and the two easy exhibition romps. That was partly it, but an easier answer is that sometimes shots just don't fall. Once it became obvious that Duke simply didn't have it from three point land (3-of-17 on the night), it would have seemed that the logical progression would have been to feed the ball inside to Williams as much as possible. A quick look at the box score shows that didn't happen as the big man got just 12 attempts – but it could have been many more as Boston had no answer for him inside.
The lack of touches for Williams, according to Krzyzewski, was a byproduct of the team pressing too hard on the offensive end. Still, it's a safe bet that K will work to get his ballhandlers to continually pound the ball inside more than they did.
Another disturbing trend was the use, or lack thereof, of the improved depth that has been touted in the preseason. Martynas Pocius, Eric Boateng, and Jamal Boykin tallied less than a minute of total combined playing time against Boston – while Redick logged 39 ticks. The 30 and 32 minutes tallies for Shelden Williams and DeMarcus Nelson were to be expected, but many had hoped to see more of the other three members of the highly rated class.
Player of the Game
Without his trademark perimeter shooting on display, senior captain J.J. Redick found other ways to score including step back jumpers and dribble drives en route to 19 points in his season opener. He never pressed or tried to do too much from long range and took what the opponents gave him. For his efforts, Redick is our TDD Player of the Game.
Duke will now host Seton Hall in a rematch of the second round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament. The Pirates play a more up tempo brand of basketball and should allow Duke to get out and run on occasion. Look for the Blue Devils to work to open up the offense in a big way. Also be on the lookout for more time for the reserves including Pocius, Boykin and, perhaps, Boateng. With the first game jitters now behind them, hopefully the Blue Devils will begin taking steps towards becoming one of the nation's best.