You might think that a game as big as Thursday night's contest would warrant a big, fat write-up, but I find ( as I pour over the stats and my general thoughts about the game) that, much like Coach K in his post-game presser, I don't have a whole heck of a lot to say in the way of finely nuanced analysis on this one, just because that's the kind of game it was ; Duke comes out hotter than a two-dollar pistol ( especially from three) and State comes out colder than a well-digger's ass, followed by a second half where State gets hotter than two weasels in a wool sock, while Duke goes to the line more often than...uh...a voter in a Russian election ( work with me here people) and holds the Pack at bay ( see what i did there? ).
Anyway, some thoughts...
You can't spell Mason without M-A-N - 30 and 9 on 9-11 shooting and ( shut my mouth) 12 -16 from the charity stripe. In his last 4 games he is averaging 22 points and 7 boards while shooting 80 % ( 34-42) from the field. After Duke's 3 point assault in the first half, Mason basically single -handedly finished the game for the Devils as he drew foul after important foul on State's bigs and cashed in at the line. Mason is now 2nd in the ACC in scoring, rebounding, and Fg% and is 5th in blocked shots ;a shoe-in for ACC POY in my humble opinion. We can also now begin the discussion of where he fits in on Duke's all-time Center list : Laettner, Ferry, Gminski, Boozer, Shelden and Mason. I believe that is your top 6.
The State of State - It's pretty dang hard to believe that State is 5-5 in conference, but, there you are. They have played pretty poorly on the road with their only win coming against lowly BC. The optimists will rightly point out that 4 of their losses were by a total of 7 points ( two on those on last second tip-ins and the most recent two without their PG) but the pessimists might counter that finishing games well is a critical team skill and one which this squad seems to lack. The real problem is that they can't play a lick of defense. I know Duke was hot and all, but...98 points?!? They are next to last in the conference in scoring defense and 8th in FG % defense. Opponents know they are thin up front, and will continue to attack them there, as Duke did. Until they figure out how to get stops when they need them ( and not foul), the Pack is going to be vulnerable to upsets. That being said, this is a hell of a team to guard. In the second half, Howell was dropping in shots from everywhere ( Duke Blue is like red to a bull with this guy) and the nearly-indefensible version of Calvin Leslie showed up to help NC State to a 18-22 start to the final 20 minutes. Also, praise must be given to Tyler Lewis (who will be the recipient of taunts throughout his career given his diminutive stature and overall middle-school appearance) who finished with 13 points, 6 assists and 0 turnovers. Not too shabby for a freshman backup playing his first game in Cameron. I think he's going to have a hell of a time on the defensive end, but, then again, he plays for State, so he's in good company.
It Will Be Hard to Top - Pretty much everyone that saw the court for Duke played well and contributed in a demonstratively positive fashion. Alex Murphy's dunk will get replayed approximately 10 times when ( he said hopefully) they make his senior video highlight reel. Seth was "good" Seth. Rasheed, while not spectacular, was entirely responsible for Duke's hot start and played great defense on Scott Wood. Quinn was probably the unsung hero of the game, dropping in 21 on 6-8 ( 4-5) shooting with 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 1 TO after getting hit with two very early fouls. Tyler had 6 assists and 1 TO and as a team, Duke assisted on 18 of 32 field goals. I mean, 58 points in a half would be pretty ridiculous if you were playing Radford, much less NC State. Now, that being said, the defense left quite a bit to be desired in the second half ( see the aforementioned 18-22 shooting for State) and Duke's end-of-game execution was positively execrable ( 5 turnovers in the final 5 minutes after only committing 3 all game...not good. BTW, when was the last time you remember seeing 2 teams finish a game with less than 9 turnovers each?) Still and yet, there was little here to kvetch about when it was all said and done.
Duke is now 4-2 without R. Kelly, which, frankly, I considered a best case scenario. He is, at this point, expected to be playing again by late February. The 21st would be 6 weeks on the nose, so I am looking at the home game against BC on the 24th as a likely spot for him to get back in the flow. That would give us @BC, UNC, @MD, @ VT to get through. No Duke fan can be anything but extremely pleased with the way the Devils have played since the Miami game and with the last 2 games in particular. The team has proved to itself ( and us) that it can , in fact, start games well in addition to finishing them well. Mason is playing like a national POY candidate again, and we are getting really consistent efforts out of virtually everyone else. Hopefully we can avoid the potential trap upset at BC and set our sights on a good old Cameron beat down of the Holes on Wednesday.