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Duke 57, Virginia 46: Survive and Advance

Sorry for the lateness of this write-up. I came home from a full day of errands/what not that were largely a pre-emptive strike to my fiancée for turning her into a basketball widow next weekend. Got home late and tried to be a dutiful ACC blogger and watch the Md/Tech game and promptly passed out on the couch.

So yesterday afternoon’s Duke game against Virginia must have given all the nay-sayers about the Devil’s Final Four chances all the evidence they might need to prove an early exit from the NCAA’s is a foregone conclusion. Again. And they could be right. But then maybe the haters should watch the last 6 minutes again.

Yesterday was a really, really, really frustrating game to watch. The first half was so annoying I could hardly even muster the energy to shout at the television. Both teams looked like they were still asleep for the early tip-off combining for a brain-freezing 12-6 score in the first 11 minutes of the game. Duke was off to its awful ‘road’ shooting M.O. going 5-16 in that stretch but was able to turn it around in the last nine minutes to shoot a sparkling 4-11. Good grief. (Given the pitiful basketball display the previous day I was beginning to wonder if the Coliseum had secretly become jealous of the tournament being held in other venues and so was exacting its petty revenge on all ACC fans by cursing this year’s tournament with vomit-inducing displays of ineptitude. I still feel this is a possibility.)  

There is some old basketball wisdom that if you are missing a lot of outside shots, maybe moving in a little bit closer to the basket to shoot is a good idea. In the second half Duke came out and decided (I’m guessing here) listen to the coaching staff and at least look to pound the ball inside on offense. And they were having some success exploiting the mis-match that Kyle Singler often presents. He went off for 10 straight points in what looked to be the barrage that would give an early KO to the Hoos. But a couple of missed free throws, 3 fouls, 7 missed shots, and 3 turnovers later Virginia was right back in the game 44-46 with six minutes to play.

To their great credit, UVa played hard all game. They fought a team of superior talent to a draw for 35 minutes. One has to believe that loosing Landesberg, while tough in the short term, may be better for the long term psyche of this team. They have established their identity as a tough defensive team who plays smart basketball. Zeglinski was not able to fill the offensive void and repeat his first game heroics – finishing the game 0-9 from the field. But the rebounding margin, turnovers, assists, steals, and blocks were all a push. The team only fell short in one, very important category: made FG’s.

Coming down the stretch Duke clamped down on D, holding Virginia scoreless for the last 6 minutes of the game until 2 meaningless free throws with a few seconds left. Conversely Duke only missed two shots, which resulted in offensive boards and put-backs – including a nice tip-in by Nolan Smith to start the closing 11 point run and a brilliant play by Singler who tapped the ball to himself and before making a layup. And then Jon Scheyer, who had looked tight all game to the tune of 2-14,  made three straight shots – including a pretty up and under ‘and-one’ drive that put Duke up 13 with 2 minutes to play. Game over.

The Duke Haters may be right. The wrong matchup or continuing to hover around 30% from the field is a recipe for another early exit from the big dance. But then again there is a reason the Big Three are called the Big Three. (there are a lot of bad puns running through my mind right now but I am going to refrain) The thing about great players, they can be neutralized most of the game and then suddenly break your back as soon as you think they can be safely ignored. The last six minutes of the game the Devils followed their winning recipe: great D, timely offensive boards, and making shots. Big time players making big time buckets. That is always going to give you a chance to win.