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Duke 77 Miami 74 : And My Epitaph Shall Read: " Here Lies Bart Matthews, Killed By Stallball"

I see it on days like today. The adumbration of my end here on earth is as clear as a path to the basket against a Roy Williams coached defense. I will be watching Duke ( probably in Cameron where the emotional pitch is always high) who, having built a “comfortable” lead against their opponent, will stop running their usual offensive sets and begin to burn clock ( or , as i like to say pejoratively, “burn the lead”). As the comfortable lead burns away like a pile of lint on the sun my heart rate will increase to  unsustainable levels,  the two events culminating in a Duke loss and my swift and premature death. It’s gonna happen, people, I’m tellin’ ya.

It’s hard to say how long the lead-burning offense has been in effect at Duke ( probably before I started watching in earnest), but it’s fairly time-tested at this point, and every fan of Duke basketball knows it and on some level fears it : spread the floor and hold the ball until there are only 10  seconds on the shot clock, then have your most capable driver of the ball drive it to the rim, and hopefully make a shot, draw a foul, or kick it to an open shooter.  “Taking the air out of the ball” is  basically a strategic admission that using up time has as much if not more value than scoring points (as the window for executing a scoring play is so small that the chances of always getting a good shot, or sometimes any shot are diminished) . It is also a strategy that is turning a lot of us prematurely gray.

Despite the hateful feelings I have towards it and the sense of impending disaster it often creates, I feel like it’s pretty safe to say that , as employed by Coach K, the stallball strategy is at it’s worst very successful and at it’s best  pretty deadly. Take the J-Will years for instance. When you have a point guard who can get to the rim at will like J ( haha), it is virtually impossible for the other team not to surrender both points and clock. However, when you don’t have a true point guard, like say…this year’s team, things can get a little more dicey, and I start to feel like breaking and hurting things. Which brings us to today’s game.

First, let me say this : The Miami Hurricanes have what is probably the youngest team in the ACC and played by far the best basketball of any team this weekend with their senior leader and best player, Dwayne Collins sitting on the bench. These kids averaged close to 80 points a game against 3 of the better defensive teams in the ACC. They started 2 sophs, and 2 freshman today and gave the conference’s best team everything they could handle. They have a game changing young talent in the person of Durand Scott and a guy who will eventually be a true force down -low in the imposing Reggie Johnson. Write it down, they will be a factor next year.

The game today was probably the best played game of the Tournament. At the outset, Duke spread the scoring around nicely and got some really good play from the Plumlees to secure a 30-20 lead with 4:30 left in the half. After a few buckets by Miami and several questionable calls by the officials against Duke, the Devils found themselves up only 5 and with the ball. Nolan Smith was clearly bumped while being closely guarded and the official chose effect over cause and called a travel. This was the proverbial back-breaking straw for K, who then picked-up a very rare technical foul. He responded shortly thereafter by dramatically removing his jacket ( being at this point hot in the literal and metaphorical sense) to which Miami’s Coach Frank Haith responded by immediately removing his jacket in an interesting bit of gamesmanship. The net result of all this impromptu deshabillation, was that Miami continued its run uanbated, as the Blue Devils missed shots and turned the ball over. The Canes concluded the half with a bomb of a 3 point shot by Malcolm Grant as time expired, giving them a startling 17-2 run to close things out.

The second half began with Singler dropping 8 points on Miami in the first 2:30 as Duke turned the intensity WAY up on the defensive end. Duke held Miami to 9 points in the first 9 minutes of the half as they went on one of their patented defensive runs. After two Scheyer free throws at the 7:30 mark , Duke was up 14 and seemed to have the game well in hand.

That was when the stallball began.

From the 6:30 mark to the 1:30 mark Duke had 7 offensive posessions. On 3 of those they failed to get off a shot before the shot clock expired. 3 . 3 times. One often goes an entire game without seeing a shot clock violation from either team, much less 3 by one team in a span of 5 minutes. This, my friends, is the darkside of stallball and all of us who witnessed today’s display probably lost a few minutes off our potential life span because of it. It’s a calculated risk, especially when you decide to lead-burn against a tough zone defense without a strong point guard, because while we were failing to get shots off, Miami calmly dropped in 11 points in about 3 minutes. (I’m getting stressed out just thinking about it again.Sheesh!)After Miami trimmed the lead to 5, Nolan hit a huge jumper in the lane with 55 seconds left to seal the deal.

Kyle Singler was the real story of the game for Duke ( again) as he was in full bacon-saving mode in the second half. For the game he had 27 points , 8 rebounds and 6 assists on 8-15 shooting and was the emotional spark to light the way when things started looking gloomy. Scheyer was our MVP for the first third of the season and Zoubek the MVP for second, but Kyle has pretty much put this team on his back in recent weeks. Let’s hope he likes doing it so much he wants to do it again next year.

As for the stallball, we know it ain’t going anywhere, so we’ll just have to steel our collective resolve and hope that we can make it through to next year, when another Jersey point guard (who has drawn comparisons to one Jayson Williams) comes down the pipe. And maybe I can stave off an early grave for a few more years.