As good as Thomas was, the Blue Devils continued to get a veteran peformance from junior captain DeMarcus Nelson. The 6-foot-3 junior scored a game and career high 23 points on 7-of-9 shooting, while adding 6 rebounds, and 3 steals to keep Duke perfect on the season.
Air Force (4-1), a team that returned its entire rotation from last season's NCAA Tournament squad, had beaten Stanford and Colorado by an average of 36 points in their previous two games with a combination of terrific outside shooting and a stifling match up zone. That defensive system had led the nation in scoring defense for the past four seasons.
However, Duke's gameplan proved to be too much for the Falcons, as the Blue Devils shot an astounding 74% from the field in the first half (17-of-23) to take a 38-24 advantage into halftime. Shooting such a high percentage from the field not only helped put points on the board, but also prevented the Falcons from having any presence on the glass, as Duke out-rebounded Air Force 9-2 in the opening period and 27-7 for the game.
Despite the big opening half performance, Duke quickly found themselves in a dogfight after halftime as the Falcons would use an 11-5 spurt to cut the lead to 8 at 43-35 with a little over 16 minutes remaining in the game. After a Duke timeout, Josh McRoberts drew a triple team before finding DeMarcus Nelson in the opposite corner for a three pointer that pushed the lead back to 11.
The teams would trade baskets from that point on with the Falcons slowly chipping away at the Duke lead, drawing within 7 with 8:08 remaining. After a break on an out of bounds call, Air Force had a chance to cut it to a two possession game, but Jacob Burtschi missed a wide open lay-up and Duke would use a cutting basket from Nelson and a three pointer from Greg Paulus to push the lead back to 12 which put the game out of reach.
For all the talk of the Falcons' defensive prowess, it was the Duke defensive effort that was the story of the night - holding Air Force to 5-of-21 shooting (23.8%) from the perimeter.
Joining Thomas and Nelson in double figures was freshman Jon Scheyer who had 12. Sophomore Josh McRoberts added 9 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists, while Greg Paulus added 8 points and 5 assists.
The win was notable for historical reasons as well as it was the 1,800th victory in the program's 102 year history. Duke's all-time record is 1,800-811.