Section 17: Sweat It Out

Editor’s note: special thanks to our buddy Alex Keller for penning this guest-spot!

The Duke community might not consider Maryland their rivals, but Maryland disagrees.  As usual, the Terrapins came to Cameron Indoor hungry last night, leaving it all on the floor.  Not yet this year have I seen Duke struggle against such strong defensive pressure, both out at the arc and fighting for rebounds.  Maryland wanted this one, badly.

Tyler Thornton provided a much needed spark in the second half. Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com.

Check out Crazie-Talk exclusive highlights from the second row of Section 17 below. Special thanks to our buddy Peter for the additional footage and Dave Bradley of DBP fame for all of his assistance.

During the first half, Maryland came ready to play, and Duke, quite simply, wasn’t prepared for the onslaught.  Handling the ball on the perimeter, the Blue Devils were hard pressed to break the Maryland zone and find an open man.  The Terps were disciplined on defense, efficient, and persistent.  Guarded closely on the perimeter, Nolan Smith found himself double-teamed as soon as he came inside the arc, but Maryland’s zone was balanced enough that the Blue Devils couldn’t distribute the ball effectively to unbalance the zone and create a mismatch.  Duke got its points, slowly, but the point productivity of earlier games was gone.  Kyle Singler and Ryan Kelly were forced to take long shots under coverage, and Jordan Williams outmaneuvered the Plumlee brothers under the basket for rebounds.

On the other end of the court, Duke had on-and-off success in trapping the ball on defense, frequently creating turnovers but just as often leaving an open man with an easy shot.  Free points add up.  Maryland’s guards shot poorly from outside, but it was still enough to keep them in the game.  For neither team was it a pretty half.  The better team lacked its usual explosiveness, the underdogs seemed to want it more, and a low-scoring, poor-shooting, scrappy first half was the result, with Duke clinging to a one-point lead going into the locker room.

More of the same continued for the first few minutes of the second half.  Williams scored four quick points at the start of the second half and Maryland extended their lead as far as six points.  The Crazies got angry.  And at the perfect time, Singler hit a big three.  As Duke mounted a comeback, the familiar roar returned, growing from a rumble to a raging torrent.  The middle ten minutes of the second half showed the extent to which the Blue Devils absolutely thrive off momentum.  More than any other team I’ve seen, year in and year out, Duke surges when it gets fired up.  A few good plays at the right time, and Cameron becomes deafening as the Blue Devils charge forward.  And once again, the game went to a media timeout with Cameron shaking under the din.

Seth Curry and Tyler Thornton deserve the game ball for what the two subs did in the next two minutes.  Between 15:13 and 13:04 in the second half, Curry had seven points off of a three pointer, a jump shot and two free throws, while Thornton had two steals, hit a jumper and took a game-changing charge.  The play of Thornton and Curry, which Coach K after the game called “huge,” took the Blue Devils from a one-point deficit to a six-point lead in those two minutes and nine seconds.  That seven-point turnaround was part of a larger 14-2 run by the Blue Devils, and in the end Thornton wound up with 4 steals and Curry with 12 points.  The Terps hung on tenaciously until the final seconds, but the Blue Devils’ play had been shocked back into their normal style, and while foul trouble held Maryland back inside, Duke got its usual long buckets from Singler, Smith, and Dawkins, Smith hit free throw after free throw to hold the lead through the final minutes, and Singler finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds in leading the Blue Devils to a 71-64 victory.

Takeaways:

  • Never underestimate Maryland.  When a team considers you their rival and feels snubbed by the fact that you ignore them for a “better” rivalry – even if that other rivalry is one of the greatest traditions in sports – they come ready to play.  Every time.  Just because you beat them by 20 early in the season doesn’t mean they won’t come back and beat you later.  See Wikipedia for what is clearly a Maryland fan’s take on the “rivalry.”
  • The Crazies, as usual, were in rare form visually as well as audibly.  The student sections of Cameron held numerous mockeries of Gary Williams, from imitating his attire in Maryland’s Midnight Madness video parodying Top Gun – some with aviators, some with a full flight suit – to a costume of him sweating.  Also spotted: Santa, lots of face paint, and students dressed up as dogs, a cow in a Duke jersey, and a giant penguin.  The costumes may be extraneous, but the decibel level continues to be a key part of Duke’s home court advantage.
  • Our team continues to show its versatility.  It’s hard to steal the show when you’re on the floor with Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, but Seth Curry was big time last night.  Tyler Thornton still has some work to do and is clearly still a freshman (2 missed free throws with 40 seconds left), but his confidence in taking the point with strong ball-handling, along with pure tenacity throughout the second half, are both good signs of his development.  With Kyrie’s status still unknown, it’s key that we’ve seen each and every one of the other guards now step up when the team has needed it.
  • Miles and Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly still need work under the basket.  Positioning for rebounds was questionable for our big men, and Jordan Williams took 13 boards that felt like a lot more.  Down the homestretch, the Plumlees were missing second-chance opportunities, missing free throws, and picking up fouls.  Duke ended up with a slim 3-rebound advantage, but that’s not going to cut it.
  • Kyle Singler got absolutely packed when he tried to drive the lane.  Over and over.  Singler’s a great player, but he can’t do it all, and trying to go up against Williams and the Terps’ big men inside was not working.  Still, Singler is one of the best players in the country, and his double-double reflects that through his adaptation during the game.  He was much more effective when in the second half he started taking more pull-up shots and mid-range jumpers and got open for threes.  Many of these shots were over the defense, as well.  Singler has height and great range for a guy his size, which makes him deadly from 20 feet, and he should be taking more advantage of the mismatches his size creates for those mid- to long-range shots if a defense is shutting him down on the drive.
  • Get Nolan on the line.  Eight for eight from the stripe down the stretch, enough said.

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