As a baseball fan, while a 12-8 game is always a good time, I have to say that there's nothing quite like a good old 2-1 pitchers' duel where defense, craftiness, and plain old work come to the fore. Sunday's Duke -Creighton matchup was exactly that ; doubtlessly boring and ugly to some, but to experienced watchers just a solid, physical (albeit unexpected), defensive tete-a-tete. Here are some game notes.
How is this even possible ? - Ryan and Mason score 11 points between them on 4-12 shooting and have as many cumulative fouls (9) as rebounds...and Duke wins by 16. Mason's 5 fouls ranged from merely bad all the way up to 50%-of the-Duke-fanbase-just-injured-themselves-punching-a-door awful (that would especially be his 4th foul, where he raked down on the offensively challenged Greg Echenique's arm instead of merely holding his ground. Though I must say his 5th foul, where he backed off Echenique, then went for a shot fake, and THEN allowed him to get the shot off and make it, also deserves to be put in a similar category). I don't want to beat the guy up or anything, but his defensive decision making circuits might be in need of a factory recall. Ryan actually played pretty spectacular defense, and would get a complete pass (his fouls were pretty ticky-tack and largely a function of how closely the refs were calling the game) for his offensive struggles...were it not for the worrisome fact that he is now shooting 14-40 from the field since the Miami game. So, how did Duke manage the win ??
Defense, and... - When you hold the team that's leading the nation in offensive efficiency (1.2 points per possession) and 3-point shooting to 30% from the floor (.76 points per possession and Creighton's worst shooting night in 4 years !!) and 2-19 from 3, you done did something right. When you hold the country's second-leading scorer to 4-16 from the floor (his worst shooting game of the year by far) with no made FGs over the final 25 minutes and 2 points under his season average, you also were most righteous in your defensive play. Coach K called it our best defensive game of the year and it's pretty hard to argue. We communicated well on switches (which we needed to do since we switched every screen) and made it hard for the Blue Jays to get McDermott to get the ball (thank you Tyler), and then even harder (thank you Ryan) for him to get clean looks.
Rasheed, and... - I can't say enough about this guy's play. With every single other Duke player struggling for one reason or another, Rasheed stepped in and manned the hell up. He was in attack mode from the opening tip ,much like the Maryland game, but unlike that game (or any game since the UVA loss in February) he looked for his jump shot. He hit more 3-pointers in this game than he had in his previous 6 games combined. Just an awesome performance by a freshman in a huge game. If he's got his mojo back it makes Duke an incredibly dangerous team.
Amile Who ? The Duke Bench What ?? - Some of you may remember him as that super high energy guy that gets a lot of offensive rebounds, converts a high percentage around the rim, and plays pretty decent defense. Others of you may have forgotten (and may be forgiven for thinking) that he exists at all since, for some completely mind-boggling reason, Coach K has insisted on not playing the kid in favor of a guy who plays hard but is not as good in any measurable way. Carolina fans will surely recognize this dogged devotion to playing upperclassmen in the face of obvious evidence that another course of action is justified. It is crazy making. And last night, after Amile came into the game and brought energy, offensive rebounding, a little scoring, and a little defense, it was even crazier-making.The bench in general , and in particular Tyler Thornton, was huge. Tyler was in every Creighton Jersey he saw and was completely disruptive as he prevented the Blue Jays from cleanly initiating their offense.
Creighton was a good matchup for Duke based on personnel and style of play. They don't have the kind of player that gives the Devil's fits (the slashing and or scoring guard) their offense is based around the 3-point line(something Duke defends extremely well), and they don't (apparently) send anyone to the offensive boards. Creighton is second in the country in shooting at 50% from the floor, so to say this was an off-night would be a bit of an understatement, but a lot of that credit goes to the Blue Devil defense. The Blue Jays played a stellar defensive game in their own right, but Duke, with Rasheed in early season form, simply has too many weapons. The we-can-stop-you-better-than-you-can-stop-us formula is one I approve of. Now,bring on the Spartans...