Reports of Duke's demise were greatly exaggerated
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- What did you expect? Did you really think Duke was dead?
"We never were," Duke sophomore point guard Greg Paulus said after the Blue Devils beat ACC leader Boston College 78-70, holding off the Eagles after getting up 24 points in the second half to end Duke's four-game losing streak, which began after Duke beat BC in Durham by 14 Jan. 28.
"We still believe in each other," Paulus said. "We were right there with the other games, it wasn't like we were getting blown out."
Let's be honest, any talk of Duke being on the bubble was ludicrous. Duke had four nonconference wins that most teams on the bubble would love to have -- over Indiana, Georgetown, Air Force and Gonzaga. The Blue Devils lost in the final possession to Florida State and Virginia Tech at home and to Virginia on the road. Sure, the Blue Devils won a game on the last possession against Clemson with a little extra clock time, but the only loss in the four-game skid that got away from them was Maryland Sunday night in College Park. Even the game against North Carolina, the second of the four games, was close throughout down to the final few possessions.
"This is a huge win for us," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We're still learning how to be a good basketball team. Our guys had been pretty confident. We believed we could win -- we just had to learn how to win."
Paulus said the close losses helped Duke be prepared for BC's comeback from 24 down to six within the final few minutes. And Coach K concurred to some extent, saying that the Blue Devils gained experience in those same situations. The poise and posture of Duke didn't change as BC started its run. Sure, Duke's offense was a bit stagnant as the Eagles climbed back into the game but when it got real tight, the Blue Devils were there to make plays.
And that's exactly what happened Wednesday night. Duke executed extremely well, finding forward Josh McRoberts along the baseline for dunks. Eight of his 18-first half points were on dunks.
Boston College senior forward Sean Marshall said the Eagles didn't pay heed to the game plan of staying home on McRoberts. He was left alone on the baseline when they attempted to rush the guards. That opened up enough space for McRoberts to get jams. But just as critical for Duke, and for the Eagles downfall, were the run-outs on turnovers. Duke read BC's offense to perfection, anticipating the entry passes and converting on dunks at the other end. In all, BC had 19 turnovers and Duke scored 28 points. McRoberts' dominance inside led to a 48-20 advantage in points in the paint, and overall the Eagles were outrebounded 31-22 and Duke took 19 more shots.
McRoberts said he was a bit surprised the Eagles helped off him so much. Freshman Gerald Henderson said that contesting those passing lanes is what they do. That's exactly what Marshall said, adding that BC knew the Blue Devils would overplay and it worked.
"We were careless with the ball," Marshall said. "We had opportunities and we didn't capitalize on them."
No one was harder on himself than Dudley, who was averaging a league-high 20 points a game but was held to 11 on 4 of 5 shooting. Dudley was in foul trouble all night, committing three in the first half and picking up a fourth with four minutes left. But playing with three in the second half affected his defensive aggressiveness.
"I can honestly say this is on me," Dudley said. "I let the refs get to me early on. I'm really disappointed how the game was called throughout.
"I feel terrible [that BC was down 24 in the second half] because I know that team is not 24 points better than us anywhere," Dudley said. "It's embarrassing."
Coach K said the key to containing Dudley is to prevent him from getting open 3s in transition. He said Dudley flip-flopping from small to power forward helps Duke because its fours (PFs) are more perimeter-oriented and can play away from the basket.
"The main thing with him is not reacting to his fakes and trying to keep him off the offensive board," Krzyzewski said.
Boston College (18-7, 9-3) blew a huge chance to create space between itself and North Carolina with a first-place showdown Saturday night at Conte Forum. Marshall said he got caught up in watching the Tar Heels lose to Virginia Tech Tuesday night to give the Eagles a one-game lead in the ACC standings. Now, BC is tied in the loss column with North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Virginia, which are all 8-3.
"This is going to be a big game for us and for them," Marshall said of Carolina.
The Eagles' schedule continues to be tough, with a road game at Virginia Tech next week before closing with Clemson at home and at Georgia Tech.
Meanwhile, Duke (19-7, 6-6) desperately needed this win with road games looming in the conference at Clemson and North Carolina, and home games against Georgia Tech and Maryland (there's a nonconference game at St. John's wedged in there, too).
Freshman Jon Scheyer said the Blue Devils had their best practice of the season Tuesday, executing and not turning the ball over. Henderson said the Blue Devils wanted this game to be their best defensive effort of the season. If it wasn't the best, it was close.
"We've just been trying to keep even keel throughout," Krzyzewski said. "We're still learning how to be a good basketball team. We've played a helluva schedule and been in a lot of pressure situations. We just have to learn how to win. This was a hard-fought win and I'm really proud of our guys."
Duke is dead? Please. Can we move on to another topic? The Blue Devils are in the NCAA Tournament. They're just playing for a seed now. And anyone who thought it was worth discussing Duke's demise better think of something else to ponder. That issue is the only thing that's dead about Duke.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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