Pushed to the wall, Redick responded
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- J.J. Redick was mad.
The Duke guard had owned his personal matchup with Indiana's Marshall Strickland all night in amped-up Assembly Hall, but the refs had just hit Redick with a body-contact foul on a Strickland drive with 2:33 seconds remaining. Redick stewed while Strickland made the free throws to cut the Blue Devils' lead to 67-65, and an insanely loud Hoosier crowd started screaming once again for the upset that hung tantalizingly in the air.
"I'm not going to comment on the officials," Redick said when asked about that call. "But I'm getting held every time down the floor."
That contention, of course, will be rebutted by the Duke-gets-all-the-calls militia in Hoopsworld. But that's another debate for another night.
On this night, it would have taken a full nelson, a figure-four leg lock, and some baling wire to stop Redick on the next trip down the court. Mere clutching and grabbing weren't going to contain the guy at winning time.
He took the ball on the left wing outside the 3-point arc -- an area that once was shoot-or-struggle territory. But Redick has outgrown his one-dimensional, catch-and-shoot label -- a little bit last year, and for good this year.
With the game up for grabs, he showed why he's no longer J(ust) J(umpers) Redick.
He put his head down and put the ball on the floor. Strickland slid his left hip in the way, impeding his progress. Redick regrouped, kept his dribble, feigned interest in a kick-out pass to the perimeter to open up a driving lane, stuck his head down farther and drove harder into the paint.
He arrived forcefully at the rim and floated in a layup, plus the foul. The noise whooshed out of the flushed gym.
"He just willed that sucker in," coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Naturally, Redick willed the free throw in, too. End of drama. End of threat. One-hundred and forty seconds later, end of game. Duke had escaped another feral road atmosphere, 75-67.
By then Redick had 29 points, five assists and four rebounds, and had done tireless work on the defensive end denying Strickland the ball. Oh, yeah, he also played the full 40.
Redick can do more things than ever on the basketball court, but the one thing he's lousy at is raising his hand and asking to come out of the game.
"I'm glad he's on my bus, or I'm on his bus, or whatever the hell it is," Coach K said, then paid No. 4 the ultimate compliment. He included Redick with guys named Hill, Hurley, Dawkins and Laettner among the all-time Duke winners.
You make your legendary coach gush like that, and you've done something.
"J.J. just refuses to lose," Krzyzewski said. "He's one of the amazing players to play at Duke -- and if he's one of them, he's one of the amazing players to play [college basketball]. He's just amazingly tough.
"He's the best, man. He's got a will that you can't teach."
Combine that with the stuff you can teach -- shooting form, handle, the ability to make shots on the move, in traffic or off-balance -- and you have a brilliant offensive player.
Combine all those things with incredible conditioning -- "I'm not the fastest or quickest guy in the world, but I'm in the best shape of anyone on the court" -- and you have a borderline unstoppable player. An All-American player. Maybe a national player of the year, and the kind of guy who can lead the Devils to another national title.
This is not the same guy who arrived at Duke from Roanoke, Va., four years ago. Redick was a McDonald's All-American who stepped in and impressively averaged 15 points per game as a freshman, then 15.9 as a sophomore, but the scouting report was pretty simple: chase him hard off screens, get a hand in his face, play belly-up D and he's useless. No way he can put the ball on the floor and beat you.
"I think my offensive repertoire was pretty limited my sophomore and freshman years," Redick said.
Even last year, when he began showing the ability to create his own shot, the numbers indicated that he still relied heavily on his perimeter jumper. That's changed now.
Sixty-four percent of Redick's field goals were 3-pointers as a freshman. That dropped to 59 percent as a sophomore, then crept up to 60 percent last year.
So far this year, that's plummeted to 38 percent. Wednesday night, four of his 10 field goals were from 3-point range.
Not coincidentally, he's shooting a career-high 51 percent from the field. His more discriminate perimeter shot selection has him hitting 49 percent from 3-point range, too. And his scoring average is a career-best 23.5 ppg.
"That's the product of a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, a higher commitment level on my part to take care of my body," he said.
As Krzyewski pointed out, Redick was the Rupp National Player of the Year last year. So it's not like he's exactly been underachieving. But now?
"He's better," Krzyzewski said. "He's a helluva player. He creates shots."
The fact that Redick does all of this with a bit of an edge tends to infuriate opposing fans. He's smart, he has a personality, he's hypercompetitive, he has a small chip on his shoulder and, at times, a smirk on his face. This is why he's the target of occasionally awful treatment on the road.
Wednesday night in Assembly Hall, the IU fans saved most of their venom for expatriate Hoosier Josh McRoberts. (Though it was nothing like the rough treatment they dumped upon North Carolina's Sean May, a Bloomington product, last year.) One fan's homemade T-shirt read:
On the back it listed the order of finish for that coveted award last year: Luke Zeller, Dominic James, McRoberts. Just one problem for IU fans: none of the three came to Indiana, dispersing to Notre Dame, Marquette and Duke, respectively.
But even though it was another player who riled up the opposing crowd, it was old reliable Redick who shut them up. He showed his experience and focus early, scoring eight points in Duke's 16-2 burst out of the blocks. And he showed his gut-level competitive nature late, after Indiana took its second and last lead at 61-60, nearly blowing the lid off the old gym.
Redick responded with a feed to Shelden Williams for an easy hoop. Then, after an IU miss, he fed Williams again for a layup. After a Robert Vaden jumper made it 64-63, Redick flashed off a Williams screen for a nostalgic catch-and-shoot 3.
That set the stage for the foul on Strickland, the slow burn, and then the decisive 3-point play that followed. That was the new J.J. Redick, the one whose initials no longer stand for Just Jumpers.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.