Section 17: Devils Feast in the Garden

‘Section 17’ is Crazie-Talk’s weekly feature that lets you, the readers, take a look at what we see from Section 17 of hallowed Cameron Indoor Stadium.

It was a team effort in New York, as Duke brings home the NIT Season Tip-Off Title. Happy Thanksgiving! (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

It was a team effort in New York. Duke brings home the NIT Season Tip-Off Title, beating rival Connecticut 68-59 in the championship game. Give thanks, Blue Devil fans. (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

For the second straight year, Duke emerged victorious in a pre-season tournament held in Madison Square Garden. In dispatching Arizona State and UConn, the Blue Devils move to 6-0 on the season and bring home the NIT Season Tip-Off trophy.

As the adage goes, “Defense wins championships.” That rang true for Duke in the world’s most famous arena. Through the first four games, Duke lit up the scoreboard, averaging 94 points per game in huge wins. But in New York the offense sputtered, and Duke relied on tough defense and our bevy of big men to limit Arizona State and UConn to 53 and 57 points, respectively.

Against the Sun Devils on Wednesday—a team that featured class of ’05 transfer Eric Boateng—the offense just wasn’t clicking. Naturally, we turned the reins over to the steady Jon Scheyer, who came away with 16 points and 6 assists. Nolan chipped in 14 and Kyle overcame a slow start and 5-16 shooting to finish with 13. Oh yeah, those three guys all played 40 minutes. With a slim backcourt, that’s going to happen sometimes this season. And Boateng, who had starred in the first couple of ASU’s games, scored a measly 4 points and turned the ball over an incredible 9 times, mostly on walks. Good riddance.

Jon Scheyer took home MVP Honors after leading Duke to the 68-59 win.

Jon Scheyer took home MVP Honors after leading Duke to the 68-59 win. (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

On Friday, Duke faced its first ranked opponent in the UConn Huskies. Probably the third most hated team for most Duke fans (guess the first two), ESPN talked up this rivalry all week. Obviously, there are difficult memories for both fanbases, notably Laettner’s buzzer beater in 1990 and the past two Final Four heartbreakers for Duke (painful). Coach K and Calhoun each have 800+ wins. The game was a big deal.

Of course, none of the history mattered on Friday night. After a frantic first 12 minutes, Duke built a nine-point halftime lead and never relinquished it. Both teams struggled to shoot the ball; Duke shot 29.6%, UConn faring slightly better at 36%. The Huskies are not a three-point shooting team, only hoisting four treys and missing all of them. Instead they worked the ball inside constantly to the frontline of Stanley Robinson, Gavin Edwards, Alex Oriakhi, etc. And the Devils responded: we blocked eight shots and grabbed 52 rebounds, led by Zoubek’s 11. So much for being “unathletic.”

The players of the game were Tournament MVP Scheyer (19 points) and local Jersey boy Lance Thomas, coming up big with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Lance was especially energetic—a lot of people underestimate his value to this team. Lance went after every loose ball and played above the rim all night, blocking three shots and altering several more. It was a good homecoming for the former St. Benedict’s Prep star.

Kyle Singler was conspicuously absent from the flow of the game. Hounded all night by Robinson, one of the Big East’s best defenders, Kyle was held to 6 points on 2-12 shooting. A silly third foul cost him the last 4:30 of the first half (ironically when Duke extended their lead).

Without the pre-season All-American on form, freshman Andre Dawkins stepped up once again to fill the scoring void. In an efficient 16 minutes, Dawkins dropped in 11 points, with two momentum shifting threes in the first half. Dawkins is looking like the fourth scorer on this team; his beautiful stroke caught the eye of Jason Williams, who tweeted “Dawkins has such a sweet jumper!” (@RealJayWilliams, for those interested).

Overall, the experienced core of this team produced the season’s first title. With the return of Mason Plumlee in a few weeks, Coach K has reason to look forward to several more championship runs this season.

Crazie Notes:

  • Duke moves to 5-4 in the series history with UConn. We’d have liked to win the Final Four games in ’99 and ’04, but hey, this one feels good nonetheless.
  • The Blue Devils out-rebounded a huge Connecticut team, 52-48. Plumlee and Zoubek are each averaging over 8 per game. It’s a luxury to have active big men like this—something we’ve missed for several years.
  • Dick Vitale was raving about UConn’s Ater Majok, who is eligible to play in a few weeks. Majok, who famously declared for the ’09 draft before playing a single game, is a 6’10” forward that should contribute, per Coach Calhoun. The complexion of the game may have changed a bit if Majok, as well as Mason Plumlee, could have played.
  • Smith joined Scheyer on the all-Tournament team, along with UConn’s Jerome Dyson, Kemba Walker, and ASU’s senior PG Derek Glasser. Nolan has a edge to him this year that is key to our success.
  • Zoubek has never developed touch around the basket. He had eight offensive boards, but couldn’t convert them, finishing with just a single field goal. He did have three nice assists, including two kickouts for perimeter jumpers. However Zoubek can contribute, we’ll take it. He’s had a less than stellar career, but as my uncle says, “He just tries so hard…”
  • The commentators would have us believe that if UConn had knocked down more threes, the game would be different. But they only took four of them. Their gameplan was to penetrate with the quickness of Walker and Dyson, and pound the glass with Robinson and Edwards. Three-point shooting just isn’t a focus for the Huskies this season.
  • The ACC and Big East are typically two of the top conferences in the country. With the win, Duke shows that not all ACC teams are apt to embarrass themselves in the Garden.
  • Walk-ons Jordan Davidson and Steve Johnson got in the game late. Inconceivable!
  • 2010 target Roscoe Smith is considering both Duke and UConn. Hopefully the title game performance helps him make the winning choice.
  • Stanley Robinson post-game comment: “They’re not very athletic. We’re more athletic than they are. They were just smarter than we were.” Kiss the trophy, pal.
  • With all the chatter about Duke being unathletic, Nolan Smith had this to say about the Devils when Mason Plumlee returns: “[We’ll be] Even more athletic than people don’t think we are.” Gotta love this kid.
  • If you missed it, check out our LiveBlog of the UConn game. Colorful commentary and in-game analysis included…

Duke returns to action on Wednesday at Wisconsin for the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Crazie-Talk wishes a retroactive Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers. Go Duke!

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