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Duke 76 Virginia 60 : Thank God they play TWO halves

There was a pattern brewing.

In the first half of the Maryland game, Duke started the contest by hitting an anemic 3 shots in 7 minutes, but one-upped themselves by getting outscored 7-0 in the first minute plus of the second half. In the Florida State game , Duke began by hitting a paltry 3 shots in the first 9 minutes, and then one-upped themselves yet again by gettting outscored 12-4 to start the second half while hitting only 3 shots in the first 6 minutes. But by the end of the first half of today’s game against UVA,  I was positively brimming with confidence that there was no possible way we could repeat the pattern again… because there was no possible way we could play any worse. But the question that remained was ‘would we play any better’? Thankfully, the answer was a resounding yes.

Duke “began” the game by hitting a stupefying 3 field goals in 13 minutes. Improbably, they actually had more offensive rebounds (7) during this stretch than made shots. The most frustrating aspect of this was( unlike the FSU game) the fact that the majority of the missed shots were not the result of defensive pressure. They were just misses. One after another, after another. Thankfully, our defense and Virginia’s own sluggish offense kept the game tight ( a 19-17 UVA advantage at the 5 minute mark), but the Duke players’ continued inability to hit shots they knew they should be making finally started eroding other aspects of their play. The defense lapsed noticably down the stretch and on offense, shooters became either tentative or overcompensated by forcing things. If not for the intervention of Nolan Smith, who was basically instructed during a late time out to take over offensively and scored all eight of Duke’s points in the final 3:21, the Devil’s would have found themselves in much more than a 6 point hole at the half.

First half numbers : 35% from the floor, 1-12 from 3-point range, 9 TOs, 25 points.( Which is only arguably worse than the FSU first half : 28%, 4-17, 11 TOs)

The second half began with one of the rarer things you are likely to see in a Duke game : the starting lineup differed from that of the first half.( Although I’m sure it’s happened at some point in the past, it was long enough ago that neither I nor my friend who has missed 5 home games in 20 years could remember it.). Tyler Thornton took over at the point from Noaln who moved to shooting guard, making Ryan Kelly the odd man out. This gave us the same lineup that we used during our comeback against Maryland. The idea behind it was threefold: 1) Whatever we were doing in the first half wasn’t working ( thank god for a great game managing coach) 2) Tyler gives our defense energy, which it was clearly lacking to end the first half and 2) It frees Nolan up offensively, since he isn’t always initiating the offense fromthe point. More than the lineup change, however, the event that had the most impact on the tone of the second half turned out to be the fourth foul on the Cavalier’s athletic center Assane Sene, which he picked up at the 17:28 mark. Virginia, already thin on the interior after the loss of their best player Mike Scott, never recovered. After 3 minutes of back-and- forth,  Duke went on a 10-0 run over the course of a minute-and-a-half, fueled emotionally by a great block/steal by Andre that led to a thunderous breakaway dunk by Nolan. At the end of the run Duke held a tenuous 49-44 lead and was only able to get the space they needed when Andre hit a clutch 3 several minutes later to push the lead to 7. Another 3 by Andre after a great tip out by Mason and 7 Nolan Smith points over the final 4 minutes sealed the victory for the Devils.

Second Half numbers : 59% FG, 4-8 from 3, 6 TOs, 51 points

Game Notes

- Nolan was a complete beast ( again), finishing with 29 points on 10 of 19 shooting, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.

- Mason finished with 16 rebounds ( 7 offensive) and would have finished with considerably more than 5 points had he not missed 3 or 4 point-blank put backs, which has really been a problem for him over the last several games. When he figures this out and manages to stay out of foul trouble, he can be the Zoubek we need this year.

- A clear effort was made at the outset of the game to run more of the offense through the post, which, after the FSU game, was a must. It didn’t pay dividends in terms of points simply because Duke couldn’t hit any shots, but definitely seemed to earn the Devils a lot more clear looks at the hoop.

- Kyle took only 9 shots. That’s far too few for a player of his caliber. He needs to be more aggressive and recover his mid-range game, which has been largely absent this year.