Friday, December 21, 2007

Finally, Duke looks vulnerable


Late in the first half Thursday night, the Duke Blue Devils were cruising again.

Freshman Taylor King swished one of his patented 3s, and Duke found itself up a seemingly insurmountable 16 points on No. 11 Pittsburgh.

But the thing was, Duke hadn't looked that impressive in building its 34-18 advantage. It hadn't gotten out in transition and scored in bunches. It hadn't shot the 3 that well, making just three triples. More than Duke being effective, Pitt had been ineffective.

In the final minute of the first half and the second half and overtime, the Panthers woke up. Duke still showed its grit, tying the game late in regulation on a 3 by freshman Kyle Singler, but in the end Pitt guard Levance Fields threw the final punch, stepping back to drain the game-winning 3 with six seconds remaining.

And No. 6 Duke (10-1) suffered its first loss, 65-64.

It happened because Duke's lack of size upfront finally hurt it. After both teams pulled down 19 first-half rebounds, the Panthers — led by haughty, 6-7 DeJuan Blair, who had 15 points and 20 rebounds — dominated the boards in the final 25 minutes, outrebounding the Devils 49-31 in the game.

Additionally, the Panthers continued to deny Duke any fast-break opportunities, making the Devils actually run their halfcourt offense. And Duke actually forced shots — something that never happened in its first 10 games.

After the game, former Dukie — and ESPN announcer — Jay Bilas, said it bluntly:

"This game was about toughness, and Pitt was the tougher team in the Garden."

No doubt about it.

The loss could be a blessing for the Devils, who don't play again until Jan. 6 against Cornell. It brings them down to earth, and Mike Krzyzewski will have a fun time working them hard — more than likely with physically-demanding drills — once they return from a short Christmas break.

But Pitt's dramatic win was a blueprint for how to slow down Duke:

Hit the boards hard, not allowing any second-chance opportunities — Duke had just seven offensive rebounds.

Don't leave 3-point shooters open — Duke made 4-of-19 from behind the arc.

And don't let the Devils run — I can't recall any fast-break points by Duke in the second half. Of course, Pitt's 16 second-chance points in the half helped to slow down the Devils.

Let's not forget, however, we wouldn't even be talking about a Duke loss if not for Fields' big shot.

Yes, Duke now has a loss. But it's difficult to render whether the "L" will hurt or help the Devils more as they head into ACC play.


Sportsattitude said...

Loved the game even though parts were a tad ugly, which is pretty much how Pitt usually plays. Blair is an absolute beast. I still think very highly of Duke and this will be a good learning experience for them. I love this time of year when teams play outside of their conferences, giving us a taste of what is to come in March.

Tyler Hampton said...

I think that Duke may have been overrated in the first place. I don't see them getting really far in the tournament. I think that they will be better in years to come, but they have a lot of unexperienced players and I don't think they will perform under pressure.

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J-bo said...

As formidable as Duke seems this year, their strong reliance on small guards, perimeter shooting, and a fast tempo makes them vulnerable. All a team needs to do is slow the ball down and get physical, and just about anyone has a chance of upsetting Duke. Combine that fact with UNC's incredibly impressive and deep play against Santa Barbara, and it's becoming more clear that UNC is still the team to beat in the ACC.

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