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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Duke goes short, gets hot late to beat State

Posted by on Wed, Jan 21, 2009 at 10:01 PM

DURHAM—Frigid temperatures, slick roads, a relatively late start time on a Tuesday night. These were all reasons to skip this game between Duke and N.C. State, but the arena was (officially, if not literally) filled to its 9,314 capacity.

It was well worth the trouble, for fans saw an unexpectedly competitive game as a feisty, wily Wolfpack squad, led by veterans Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley, threatened upset for 33 minutes before the Blue Devils—led by Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson—erupted with a closing 20-3 run to put the game away.

With campus hero J.J. Redick sitting behind the home bench, Duke came out with spirits high and guns blazing. Except that its shooters could barely hit the backboard: 29 percent in the first half. Perhaps Redick had a notion to go find his retired jersey and some sneakers.... In any event, State reaped the harvest of Duke's misplaced shots and went to the locker room with a 26-22 halftime lead—a nice accomplishment, but there was no way Duke would continue to shoot so badly.

Although Duke's win was ultimately impressive and convincing, partisans might be concerned about the team's less effectual big lineup—meaning Brian Zoubek, who had two, maybe three, dunks blocked by the Wolfpack and otherwise grabbed four rebounds and scored four points in 16 minutes. After Costner began doing some damage from the perimeter, Krzyzewski elected to go small. Zoubek went to the bench three minutes into the second half and didn't return.

On the State side in the second half, most of the starters were, puzzlingly, on the bench from the 13-minute mark to the 7:15 point, including McCauley and Costner. No doubt they needed rest, and although the score only tilted marginally from State's favor to Duke's during that span, something changed in the building. When Sidney Lowe reinserted his starters at 7:15, Duke had regained the lead behind a pair of threes from Nolan Smith, and was up 56-53. State would score only three more points to Duke's 20 the rest of the way.

Listening to Krzyzewski rehash the game afterward was, to this newbie, an impressive thing. Without the aid of notes, he accurately recounts the ebb and flow of games, right down to the sequence of a certain player's shots and the length and value of scoring runs. Magnanimous in victory, he called Costner and McCauley among the league's best (and indeed, both looked very sharp), and noted that State is starting to get more consistent point guard play from a committee consisting of Farnold Degand, Javier Gonzalez and freshman Julius Mays (who seemed to be the most effective of the trio). 

Here's the box score.

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