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Looking Back...Duke 70, Purdue 57

On Friday night Duke got to take a good, long look in the mirror.

What they saw was this: an in-your-shirt man-to-man defensive team which, before injury took out Robbie Hummel , was reliant on 3 players for close to 70% of their scoring and who finished tied for first in their conference. Looking more closely they saw, in a mirror -image reversal, a small frontcourt and a backcourt with bevy of defensively-minded role-players that included their emotional leader/best defensive player.

It’s a shame, in a way, that these two teams couldn’t face each other at full strength. As it was, Purdue was able to give the Devils a really strong taste of their own medicine, as the Boilermakers ( in the words of Coach K ) “stood {Duke} up” for a solid 30 minutes and ( in the words of myself) made us play one of the ugliest , most ineffectual halves of basketball we’ve played all year. As a measure of this, you have only to look at these numbers : Duke outrebounded Purdue 28-12  and trailed with seconds reamaining in the half. How is this possible, you ask? Simple; turnovers. Duke had 4 more TO’s in the first half (11) than they did in the entire game against Cal and 3 more turnovers than field goals. Just so you know, when your fieldgoal to turnover ratio is less than 1…that’s a bad thing. Pudue’s defense had a great deal to do with this, as they gave Duke very little room to maneuver offensively, but the Devils helped them out quite a bit with the now requisite missed open looks from outside (I’m looking at you Jon Scheyer) and by simply being careless with the ball. Offensively , Singler was about it with 11, as Nolan couldn’t get his floating runners to drop and Scheyer continued his struggles from outside. (At some point in the half, I had a J.J. tournament flashback, as Scheyer looked like he was shooting a medicine ball, especially the way it was punishing the rim). For Purdue, Juwan Johnson was really impressive, as he continued to step out and drain jumpers from 16 feet, making me think that, given his length and athleticism, a future in the League may be waiting.Nolan Smith, for all that he struggled in the first half, made, what in my mind was one of the plays of the game to end the half as he grabbed a loose rebound and canned a J to give Duke the lead. It was a HUGE momentum play.

In the second half Duke came out in much better form and tried to stretch the lead as the other 2 of the Big Three got going (Scheyer stopped settling for jump shots and drove the ball inside for several of his patented sneaky layups. Where has that been, by the way?), but the hot shooting of E’Twaun Moore kept Purdue right in it. Things finally broke open when Nolan caught fire and dropped in 7 points in a minute and a half at the 9 minute mark to push Duke’s lead to 9. This too was due , in part, to a more aggressive offensive approach, as Nolan drove the lane for a couple of sweet floaters. A lot of Duke’s success in the second half was attributable to this change in strategy. In the first half Duke had zero points in the paint despite pulling down 10 offensive boards. In the second half, they attacked the rim and dropped in 20 paint points on 10 of 16 shooting. Duke then used another of its patented Defensive runs, holding Purdue to 3 field goals from the 8 minute mark to the 1 minute mark, salting the game away with well executed stallball ( I’m looking at you, Jon Scheyer).

For the game, Duke held an astounding 45-22 edge on the boards, including a 15-4 offensive rebounding advantage. Zoubek was his usual beastly self, pulling down 14 boards and setting one clock-cleaning screen on Purdue’s human dishrag Chris Kramer, while Kyle continued his team-carrying, tough-as-nails play with 24 and 8.

It wasn’t especially pretty, and I suppose now we now know a little bit better what our opponents had to face this year. That’s what mirrors are good for after all. But reflections are only shadows, and Duke is for real. For real in the Elite Eight.