The Week that Was in 30 words: a rough loss to an inferior team put Duke’s road woes under the microscope, but the team rebounded with a convincing win in an arena where they were thrashed last year.
Searching for their first true road win of the season, the Blue Devils left the cozy confines of Cameron on Wednesday and took a short drive up to Raleigh to face the Wolfpack of NC State. What many thought should have been an easy road win against a team picked to finish 11th in the ACC was anything but, as the Wolfpack blitzed Duke early and often, shooting well over 60% from the field in the first half. NC State junior Tracy Smith was a load inside, tying a season-high with 23 points on 10-12 shooting. Smith, who consistently got to the rim with ease, was too strong for Lance Thomas and too quick for Brian Zoubek. Also key to the Wolfpack victory was the performance of senior Dennis Horner, who scored 20 points. Horner was a mismatch offensively for the Blue Devils, as his perimeter-oriented game caused problems for whichever Duke big man guarded him.
What a difference a game makes: the Plumlee brothers were nowhere to be found on Wednesday. After combining for 30 points and 21 rebounds against Wake Forest last Sunday, brothers Miles and Mason scored a grand total of 2 points. Just as it looked like they were making huge strides down low, this performance was a giant step backwards against a team with a front-line less imposing than Wake Forest. Furthermore, while Smith and Horner gave their team 43 points, Duke’s four big men combined for only 13 points. And they say the game is no longer important from the foul-line down.
Duke’s big three combined for 61 points, but Kyle Singler seemed bothered by his wrist injury, as he missed several easy shots in the paint. However he was aggressive all game and got to the free-throw line 12 times, suggesting his wrist should not be a big problem going forward. Jon Scheyer was wild at times and made some poor choices after getting into the lane, missing 11 of his 16 field goal attempts. Nolan Smith, on the other hand, had an efficient night with 18 points and remained Duke’s most consistent player this season.
As inept as the Duke defense looked last Wednesday, that was how impressive it was on Saturday against Clemson, when they went into hostile Littlejohn Coliseum and delivered their best Siegfried and Roy impersonation. The Blue Devils tamed the Tigers to the tune of 37.5% shooting from the field to go along with 16 turnovers and only 6 assists, notching their first true road win of the season. I’ll be honest – I did not expect us to win this game because of Wednesday’s brutal defensive performance. But to give our team credit, the road bleeding eventually had to stop and they were hungry to prove the doubters wrong.
Duke has looked thoroughly impressive in sweeping Clemson this year, with the road win being even more impressive than the home win when they held the Tigers to 12 first-half points. Nolan Smith was absolutely dynamic, getting into the paint and finishing with an array of layups, floaters and mid-range jumpers. Lance Thomas had his best performance of the season with a season-best 13 points and 7 rebounds, all while doing a solid job against Clemson star Trevor Booker. Booker, who scored 22 points, got his, but no one else on the Tigers got any. Most importantly, the Blue Devils showed poise in handling the full-court press that completely flustered them last season, turning the ball over just once in the second half. The Blue Devils made a statement in South Carolina on Saturday, showing that they are still the team to beat in the ACC.
Some thoughts going forward:
- Saturday’s game at #7 Georgetown will be Duke’s biggest regular season game all year. Yeah, I said it. That includes the games against UNC, because let’s be honest: with all due respect, a game against an unranked team can’t be that big, can it? The Hoyas, who will be looking to rebound from a Monday loss at #4 Syracuse, have a big three to match Duke’s big three: Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Greg Monroe.
- In our nation’s capital on Saturday, Duke will run into the team that may have even less depth than themselves. John Thompson III’s rotation goes only six deep, as no one else on their roster averages more than 10 minutes a game. Their big three and guard Jason Clark all average more than 32.7 minutes per game.
- Duke’s depth may indeed be a problem in the long run, especially for our trio of scorers who are playing more than 34 minutes a game. No bench points were scored against Clemson, as Coach K has noticeably shortened the rotation in the new calendar year. In fact, Andre Dawkins has hit zero threes in only 55 minutes of ACC play, a inconceivable thought only a month and a half ago, when he made four big threes down the stretch in Madison during our attempted comeback against Wisconsin.
- As big as Saturday’s tilt against Georgetown is, the team should definitely not look past tomorrow’s home game against Florida State. The Blue Devils may have problems with the size of Chris Singleton and Solomon Alabi, both of whom are a year older and more experienced. Combined with their impressive size and considerable talent, these two create mismatches for a lot of teams.
- We can say the NC State loss was an aberration after our performance at Clemson. However, while the losses at Wisconsin and at Georgia Tech can be somewhat excused, the truly elite teams do not lose games to teams picked to finish 11th in their conference. Perhaps the coaching staff should schedule some TRUE non-conference road games (sorry, Madison Square Garden) early in the season to test our mettle.