Duke, BC should benefit from tough nail-biter
Duke hadn't been in a tight game in nearly two months. But it's the pressure of those games that will get the Devils ready for the NCAA Tournament, writes Andy Katz.
BOSTON -- Duke needed this. No question about it. Duke needed this.
Now, the Blue Devils aren't going to say they wanted to blow an 18-point second-half lead. But they hadn't had to protect a lead down to the final possession since Memphis and Virginia Tech, games that were well before New Year's.
Duke beat Boston College 83-81 in front of yet another biggest-crowd-of-the-season for the home team when Duke rolls in. This atmosphere was as good as the Eagles have seen -- maybe ever -- in Conte Forum. This was a happening. It was a who's who from the city's rich sports landscape: BC alum Doug Flutie, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Red Sox hierarchy past Dan Duquette and present Larry Lucchino, Pats coach Bill Belichick and even news media personalities including Meet the Press' Tim Russert, whose son is a student. Russert was so into the game that during a BC run he was yelling at Sean Marshall during a timeout, "Our house! Our house!"
Tickets have never been so hot. But Duke is used to this, always has been, always will be.
"It was a great atmosphere, and it gets better every game but this one was one of the best ones we've had," Duke senior guard Sean Dockery said. "It's like this every game and it gets better and better."
"You get used to it after the first five games of your freshman year," Redick said. "Every game at Duke is a big game. Every game is on national television except one this season."
But not every game is as physical as this one. BC brought its flex offense, physical style and overall grind-it-out game to the ACC. The Eagles weren't going to fade against Duke. They pushed their way back from oblivion to challenge the Blue Devils like no one else has in the second half in the ACC this season.
"The game got more physical and we didn't respond well to that and we lost our poise," Redick said. "The physicality of the game got to us down the stretch.
"For our team it's big and in previous years the Duke teams I've been on would have lost this game," Redick said.
"We didn't have a guy or two guys that would step up and have the ball in their hands and make plays and this team does," Redick continued. "We've got a veteran group that has been in these situations before."
Redick was hounded by Marshall in the first half. But Marshall had two fouls on him as he tried to stay with Redick, who was a mortal three of seven in the first half. He finished with 28, making eight of 18 shots and, just as impressive, nine of 10 free throws as well as fouling out Marshall with a little over four minutes to go in the game. The Blue Devils were also able to get to Craig Smith, fouling him out with just under three minutes remaining. Duke freshman guard Greg Paulus drew the block on Smith, a fifth-foul call that the Eagles were irate over since they thought he had position. Smith played 35 minutes and didn't get to the line once, another bone of contention for the Eagles.
Still, the Eagles wouldn't quit and with a smaller, inexperienced lineup, they took Duke down to a one possession game at 79-76 with 25 seconds left.
"Coach said that in the locker room that we better get used to this in crunch time," Dockery said of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's postgame talk. "We had a critical play happen to us. Better it happens now than in the Final Four."
The play that Dockery is talking about was Lee Melchionni's turnover on an inbound play that resulted in a Jared Dudley layin with 16 seconds remaining, allowing Boston College to creep to within one point at 79-78.
"That turnover was unexcused and there was a miscommunication," Redick said. "It was a bad play."
BC had to foul, and Redick made two free throws for a three-point lead with 14 seconds left. BC freshman Tyrese Rice took it the hole, but was unable to convert over Duke's Shelden Williams. Rice landed on the floor with 7.4 seconds left and the Eagles thought he should have been at the line. Instead, Williams was fouled, made two free throws and the game was essentially over. Louis Hinnant made a 3-pointer for the final margin.
"We haven't had a close game in a while and we let up a bit," Williams said. "We weren't strong with the ball late. We gave them a turnover. We had to regroup and concentrate in the final minutes."
Duke finished by making 20 of 27 free throws in the second half, 29 of 37 overall. Williams was 13 of 16 from the free-throw line. BC was 10 of 13. The fact that BC had as many attempts as Williams made irritated the Eagles to no end. Regardless, BC dug itself an 18-point hole with 11 of its 15 turnovers coming in the first half.
"We gave up a lot of easy buckets and uncontested shots [off the turnovers]," said Dudley, who finished with 28 points.
Yet, the Eagles didn't die like they did against NC State here last month when they were faced with a double-digit deficit in the second half. The Eagles held a team meeting after that game and haven't been the same team since.
In the final minutes, BC had no Smith, no Marshall and few trips to the line. That meant the Eagles had to find a way to get back into the game. And they did.
They pushed Duke to the limit, and the Blue Devils won -- something that will help them in March, but also should aid the Eagles in their final nine regular-season games as they attempt to secure an NCAA Tournament berth as well as improve their ACC tournament seeding.
The Eagles, who had won five straight prior to this game, play four more road games where BC coach Al Skinner said the Eagles are always more poised. They seem to relish playing in hostile environments.
"This said a lot about our character," Smith said. "We fought ourselves back into the game. The NC State game we accepted it. We didn't quit but we accepted it. Here we worked really hard to get back in."
"It's fun to play at home but it's better to play these games on the road," Williams said. "The crowd was into it. There was a lot of intensity. There was no better feeling than walking off the court [with a win]. This is something we haven't had for a while, a real close game."
Boy, did they need it. And to win it by hanging on will do wonders for this group. If BC doesn't get too down, the Eagles should benefit, too.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.