Player of the Year: He's certainly got a lot more games to play, but senior J.J. Redick continued to prove, or disprove depending on which side you're on in this debate, that he's much more than a jump shooter. In fact, say what you will but Redick continues to prove that he can flat out play. Against the Hoosiers he scored a team high 29 points while handing out five assists and grabbing four rebounds. He also threw in a pair of steals for good measure.
And while those numbers are certainly big time, it was the way in which he delivered them that made the difference. When Indiana took the lead, it was Redick who drove to the basket for the hoop and harm. Then it was Redick handling the ball and feeding it inside to Williams for an easy pair of buckets. And when the Hoosiers pulled back to within one? It was Redick who went outside and knocked down a long contested three that put Indiana and the sold Assembly Hall masses on the ropes with no chance to come back punching.
The change in Redick's game from his first three seasons has been remarkable and he continues to look more and more like a player who is not only capable of putting his team on his back and carrying them deep into March, but one who relishes the opportunity.
Defensively Not Bad: Sure Duke surrendered a career night to Indiana's Marco Killingsworth inside, but it was the defense on the perimeter that allowed the Blue Devils to win on Wednesday. Indiana entered the game shooting a remarkable 58 percent from long range (42-of-72) while racking up 29.0 assists per game. Coach K's gameplan was to limit the perimeter opportunities and force the Hoosiers to operate in the post. And though the Duke coaching staff wasn't counting on Killingsworth looking like a lottery pick all night, the Devils were able to hold Indiana to just 2-of-10 shooting from behind the arc. Duke also forced 16 turnovers and held IU to just 12 assists on the night.
Nooo….YES! That's what many Duke fans screamed on a few occasions on Wednesday night watching senior Lee Melchionni line up and fire from the perimeter. Coming into the game Melchionni's shooting percentage looked more like a shoe size than anything a respectable perimeter marksman would put up. Wednesday he again showed the ability to hit the side, back, and front of the rim. However he also knocked down two huge jumpers from long range (he finished a respectable 2-of-5) that were daggers in the heart of the Hoosiers. He also helped out on the boards in a big way, grabbing nine on the night.
Going forward if Duke can get stat-lines like the one he produced in Bloomington, it's going to take the pressure off Redick and Shelden Williams. Melchionni finished with 12 points (5-of-8 shooting), nine rebounds, and three assists in 29 minutes of action.
Thrown to the Wolves: Perhaps the most important play of the night made by someone not named Redick was the first series after the tip. Duke drew up a scenario that put Josh McRoberts in position to get an easy bucket and calm his nerves. The 6-foot-10 Carmel, Ind. native executed and got his feet under him from there, making several plays before foul trouble caught up with him. McRoberts finished with six points, three rebounds, and two blocks in 18 minutes. More importantly he had the last laugh against 17,000 plus.
Classmate Greg Paulus continued his maturation process as well. Paulus provided Duke with a third scoring option in the first half, before settling down and throwing a number of great passes. Certainly he was shaky to begin the game, turning the ball over four times in the first seven minutes. But after settling down he played the rest of the game with a six to two assist to turnover ratio. Paulus also stepped up and knocked down a huge pair of free throws with the game on the line late…something you don't expect freshmen to do in their sixth game of collegiate competition.
On a similar note it has to be mentioned that senior Sean Dockery showed a lot of leadership before Paulus stepped to the line. As soon as the whistle was blown Paulus seemed to resemble a deer in headlights. Dockery quickly grabbed his understudy, put his arm around him, and walked him down court. Whatever he said to Paulus worked as the freshman appeared much calmer at the line.
Battle Tested: The knock on Duke in recent years has been a soft out of conference schedule. That cannot be said this season as the Blue Devils have now faced a top 10 opponent followed by the No. 16 team in the country in a hostile environment. Were it not for the seniors, it's safe to assume that Duke would have lost in Bloomington. Instead the four captains' steady leadership and the baptism of fire give the two contributing freshmen will likely pay dividends in a few months when it's win or go home.
What Went Wrong:
Hold On To The Ball: This game wasn't pretty by any stretch of the imagination for either side. With the Big 10 style of play being allowed (i.e. basketbrawl) inside, both teams continually turned the ball over; In particular both Paulus and Dockery had turnovers that could be classified as "silly". Paulus' were usually due to trying to force the ball inside and not hitting his target's hands. Dockery's most memorable one was being stripped at mid court with one on one pressure and then watching the opponent streak down court for the uncontested basket.
Another player who was particularly turnover prone was Williams. Perhaps it was the shellacking he took from Killingsworth on every play. Perhaps it was the constant pressure he saw. Perhaps it was just an off night. For whatever reason, Williams simply looked confused when attempting to pass the ball out of a double team, tallying six turnovers on the night. In Williams' defense he's passed out of said defensive pressure in the past and it usually resulted in a wild perimeter jumper. However, this season the ball is going right back in – and would have last night if Williams had recognized the pressure earlier and gotten rid of the ball inside. Likewise his teammates need to move and give him open passing lanes to get the ball out and then feed it back. Williams did settle down in the final eight minutes of the game, and that was the difference down the stretch as Killingsworth ran out of gas.
The Briefest of Cameos: There was no doubt that Williams couldn't stop Killingsworth on the interior, and that he was playing the big Hoosier soft to avoid foul trouble. Still it's curious that post reserves Eric Boateng and Jamal Boykin didn't have a shot to go in and, if nothing else, spell Duke's starting front court while also banging on the bigger, stronger opponent.
On the night Killingsworth hit just 33% of his free throw attempts. Would sending Boateng and Boykin in with the instruction of not letting the guy get the ball up been a deal breaker for Duke? If they both foul out is Duke really hurt more than forcing Williams to play soft – allowing IU to remain confident, the crowd to go crazy and building Killingsworth's confidence with each and every trip down court?
Of course during the minute Boateng saw he made the IU big guy look like Garnett as Marco went around him off the dribble like a guard for an easy bucket. Before the ball fell through the hoop Williams was at the scorer's table.
Freshman wing guard Martynas Pocius also made a brief appearance, though it was hard to notice since he registered zeros across the box score aside from the "4" in the minutes played column.
Traditional wisdom suggests the freshman class will get more and more time at home in the coming games that are considered a step down in competition. And that's a serious hope for many Blue Devil faithful wary of another March where Duke desperately needs someone other than Redick and Williams to step up and the only candidates are seldom used reserves.
At Least They'll Be Safe On the Road: That's about the only good thing you can say about the Nike jerseys perpetrated on the Duke fan base last night. While many Duke Faithful have come to accept the black uniforms, that addition of what was either duct tape or the reflective stuff worn by joggers and bike riders jogging and riding at night was so bad it was comical.
Honestly, did Nike learn nothing from their horrendous reviews of their "Elite" uniform line when they tried it with several football teams? The results ended up looking like the stitching department ran out of the right colors and decided to stitch the sleeves up in whatever was lying around? What's next? Argyle?
Hopefully these new reflective threads will go the way of the stripped tops of the 1994-1995 season and soon.
Player Of The Game:
In the post game news conference Krzyzewski said Redick is good enough to be considered among the greats of Duke basketball history. Certainly he's playing like a NPOY, and unlike previous years, seems to have the ability to take what the defense is giving him, while still possessing a tremendous perimeter stroke. When Indiana chased him around the perimeter, Redick went off the dribble and scored. When the Hoosiers cheated off him he knocked down the outside shot. When they collapsed the defense on him, Redick found the open man. He's no longer a shooter. He's a scorer, and more than that he's turning into a complete player.
With 29 points (10-of-17 shooting, 4-of-8 3pt), four rebounds, five assists, and two steals in yet another iron man performance, Redick is our TDD Player of the Game.
After facing back to back nationally ranked opponents on the road, Duke returns to the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor to host Virginia Tech and Penn before heading to Madison Square Garden to face No. 2 Texas. The Hokies and Quakers are certainly quality programs, but are a step down from Memphis and Indiana. That said, both are capable of pulling an upset if given the chance.
In a perfect world Duke will jump on both teams early and allow the reserves to get some playing time and confidence while the Blue Devils coast to a pair of wins before facing the toughest test of the year in New York against the Longhorns. The question is will that happen or will Duke find itself in yet another struggle against the Hokies who possess a roster full of athletic swingmen.