The Duke Blue Devils are Sweet 16 bound after holding on to a 74-69 victory over Texas on Saturday evening. Duke made some big plays down the stretch, starting with a Kyle Singler tip in that gave the Devils a two point lead.
Shortly thereafter, Singler was called for his fifth foul with 1:07 left in the game. Gary Johnson stepped to the line and sank two free throws to tie the game at 69 apiece. On the other end, Nolan Smith scrapped for a rebound off a miss and was fouled.
Smith, who ended the game with 11 points and a team-high 3 assists, calmly drained both of his free throws to give Duke a 71-69 lead.
The Blue Devils then leaned on their defense and kept the Long Horns from scoring, thanks to an incredible save. Jon Scheyer made a save in front of the Texas bench, making a backhanded pass with his left hand all in the same motion. That save was an almost perfect toss down court and Elliot Williams battled for the ball and was fouled by Johnson.
While Williams missed the two free tosses, a mad scramble ended with the ball in Gerald Henderson's hands. "G" was fouled as he attempted to get a pass off while on his knees and that allowed him to seal the game with two free throws to give Duke a 74-69 win.
Henderson had a game-high 24 points and 6 rebounds, and his play helped Duke push their season record to 30-6.
Kyle Singler chipped in with 17 points and 7 rebounds and Jon Scheyer added 13 points to go with 3 steals.
Oddly, the Blue Devils were out-rebounded and outscored by 12 points in the paint, not to mention their bench had just 13 points to the Horns 24. Duke didn't even have a single point on the fast break, but they did what it takes to win.
One of those things was the fact that Duke protected the ball, making just 9 turnovers. Duke was also solid from the free throw stripe, but hitting 7 of 14 three pointers could have been the key.
The Blue Devils also held A.J. Abrams in check, not to mention harassing Texas' three-point shooters and holding them to 5 of 22.
Duke will return to Durham before departing for Boston, Massachusetts where they will play Villanova to see which team will advance to the final eight game on Saturday.
Stay tuned for more on this game and the NCAA Tournament from Blue Devil Nation. And yes, I got lucky with my pick of Duke 75-70, missing each team's score by a single point. Everybody gets lucky every now and then.
If past history proves to be correct, then Duke may well advance to the Sweet 16 with their fourth win against no losses versus Rick Barnes and Texas. On the other hand, if recent history is at work , then the Blue Devils may take the short trip home to Durham, once again saddened by an early exit.
Duke is now one of three ACC schools left standing after the first round, while Texas is among the undefeated teams from the Big 12. Let, Duke or UNC go down today and rants of the ACC is overrated will dominate the air waves in the coming week. If both go down, it will be known as Black Saturday, which mirrors Black Sunday where Duke and UNC lost on the same day to definitive underdogs.
Make no mistake that Texas is a formidable opponent, which has three kids who can rebound with anybody. They may have the most explosive player on the court with A.J. Abrams, who nailed a bushel of three pointers in the Long Horns easy opening round win over Minnesota.
Abrams comes into the game averaging 26.0 ppg and he will likley make or break the Blue Devils or should I say the Blue Devils may make or break him with their defense. The bottom line is that Duke will look to slwo him down and not give him any more open looks than necessary.
Texas inserted three guards into their lineup and have since been playing solid basketball. The pre season top ten team fell just short of expectations, but their talent level is at, well, a high level.
Where Texas rally flourishes is on the boards. Dexter Pittman is a 6-10, 298 pound behemoth who continues to come into his own. Pittman will be a difficult match up for Duke who will not be able to double team him but so often in that Damion Jones and Gary Johnson are athletic and probably both better players than Pittman.
Jones averages 15.2 ppg and 9.1 rebounds and is all over the place. You may also remember Gary Johnson for Duke once took a long look at him. Johnson sat out one season with heart problems. but he plays bigger than his 6-6 height and has good hops and the ability to do damage inside.
Duke will count on Elliot Williams, Nolan Smith and whoever switches to keep Texas from being able to dish to their bigs, which despite Abrams is the strength of their team. The Blue Devils will very much need some good minutes from Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas and as always will need to keep their true front court star, Kyle Singler out of foul trouble.
The X-Factor could be Gerald Henderson, a player capable of turning any game. However, Henderson will face some athletic wings which will not allow him to drive like he is accustomed to unless Duke finds season in the defense which will most likely come from pushing the basketball up the floor when possible.
It is very important for Duke to hit their three point shots in this contest and canning the free throws wouldn't hurt. Coach Rick Barnes is 4-8 versus Krzyzewski, but their are grumblings among some fans that Texas is due.
One more intangible, will be that UNC fans are likely to make this seem like a road game, despite their distaste for Rick Barnes, a story for another day. This may allow Texas to reach deep and or gain momentum for runs, so Duke will have to focus on forty minutes of basketball.
While anything can happen in a game, if Duke is shooting the ball well from the three point stripe, I expect that they will fight through the recent bugaboo where they flamed out early.
This is a different Duke team, but still one developing it's psych. Barnes expects Duke to come out hard early, but the Devils will not be allowed to get too jacked up by Krzyzewski who knows the final score is what counts and that the game will likely have some runs by both teams.
So, the pick here is Duke 75 Texas 70 in a hard fought contest.
Duke had little trouble whipping up on undersized Binghamton to advance to the Saturday evening game with Texas. While the Blue Devils had their way over the course of the game, Binghamton played inspired basketball. The Bearcats kept it close by hitting 6 of 11 three pointers in the first half.
But the Duke defense tightened up in the second half, allowing a single three pointer and starting with a 17-2 run to send the pesky Bearcats reeling. Duke hit nine three pointers of their own and dominated the game from the charity stripe going 21 of 25.
It didn't hurt that the Blue Devils held a 38-20 edge on the boards, many of them on the offensive end. Duke had six double figure scorers on the night, led by Lance Thomas who went 5 of 5 from the field for 14 points.
"It just seemed like Lance had tremendous energy and our whole team fed off of it," stated Krzyzewski after his team notched him victory number 832.
Kyle Singler fell just short of a double-double with 10 points and 9 rebounds and had a team high 5 turnovers. Gerald Henderson chipped in with 13 points and 6 rebounds and Nolan Smith was pretty much a sixth starter off the bench with 13 points and 3 assists.
Jon Scheyer had a team high 15 points and Elliot Williams continued his ascent with 11 points. Scheyer and Williams had four assists each, making them the team leaders in that category.
"Elliot made a few really big time decisions, or good decisions in how we moved the ball, instead of taking a quick shot," said Krzyzewski of his freshman's play.
Duke will now head back to Durham and prepare for Texas, who won handily over Minnesota to advance. The Longhorns will bring a lot more size to the table than the Blue Devils' first opponent and will be led by A.J. Abrams who scored 26 points today.
The Blue Devils are now 29-6 overall for the season. Duke is now 87-29 in the NCAA Tournament which equals the highest winning percentage of any team. Duke now has 30 NCAA Tournament wins since 2000 and 290 wins in the decade which tops the list of all schools in that time period.
Duke rolls into the Greensboro Coliseum as the ACC Champions to face Binghamton University, a team that is in the NCAA's for the first time. The Blue Devils are sure to face heckling from what is sure to be a pro UNC crowd and t-shirts which let their neighbors know they won a trophy for winning last weeks tournament are guaranteed to make the blood boil even more.
Coach Krzyzewski will not allow his team to bathe in past glory and it is clear from hearing the Blue Devil players that they are on a mission to make it down the road in this season's tournament. So, put aside the venom of the rivalry, for beaming in on the job at hand is the ticket.
Okay, you might say that Binghamton has never been to an NCAA tournament and they shouldn't be all that. Before you get it in your head that this will be a cakewalk, remember Belmont. That's why as fans, you must take these games one at a time, just like the team does.
Did you know that Binghamton has the third longest winning steak in the country? Well, they do. The Bearcats are riding an 11 game winning streak, partly due to the play of their go-to guy, D.J. Rivera.
Rivera, a controversial transfer, enters the game as the Bearcats top scorer and rebounder. He is putting up numbers of 20.0 ppg and 6.5 rpg. The junior has broke pretty much every single game record and was named to the Fox Sports Mid Major All American team.
Before you get too caught up on that mid major tag, you would be wise to realize that the majority of the players who log major minutes are transfers from major college programs. In fact, the Bearcats had eight newcomers or transfers from other schools coming into the season.
That was a philosophy which second year Coach Kevin Broadus implemented right off the bat. After a sub .500 year, this year's Bearcats won the American East Conference and sport a 23-8 overall record. A side not is that the Cats are 2-0 on neutral sites and 9-6 on the road this season.
Broadus, formerly employed by Georgetown, was named Coach of the Year in his conference. Much has been made about his recruiting style, but that has nothing to do with the game at hand, so save it for another day.
Helping Rivera out will be Emauel Mayben, a member of the All America East second team. Mayben is averaging 11.5 and 4 rpg.
The middle is manned by Reggie Fuller, the only senior in the lineup. Fuller is tallying 10.2 ppg and 7.1 rpg and holds the teams single season rebounding record.
The fourth double figure scorer us Malik Allen, a third guard who has numbers of 11.7 ppg and 3.1 rpg.
So, the Bearcats are pretty much a four man show and look for Duke to show them a stingy defense designed to keep their guards from going off. In fact, I think Duke will play a lot of players in an effort to wear Binghamton down while staying fresh for the next game if all works according to plan.
Look for the Blue Devils to play a lot of perimeter and wings against a team which relies on quickness and ball movement to get their shots. Duke will likely try to smother Rivera as well, making other players step up to beat them.
Last season, Gerald Henderson put the team on his back to get past Belmont, but the Duke players say they learned from the experience and I think they have. Look for Singler and Thomas to control the paint and Henderson to pick up where he left off.
It will be interesting to watch and see how Scheyer reacts at the point in the NCAA's as well. If Duke continues to protect the ball as it has of late, Binghamton could be in for a long night. The pick here is Duke 81 Binghamton 57
Side Notes -Binghamton has far more students than Duke with 14,368. They were originally Triple Cities College of Syracuse University in 1946. Binghamton is 18-0 when leading their opponent with 5 minutes left in the game this season. They overcame a 25 point deficit to beat Boston earlier this season. Rivera has scored 20 points or more in 20 games. In 2001 Binhampon lost to North Carolina 61-60. They defeated Miami in 2006 by a score of 79-74 at Coral Gables. Greg Paulus was a teammate of Bearcats guard David Fine while at Christian Brothers.
There was no shortage of happiness as Duke won the ACC Championship yesterday. An excited Gerald Henderson was pulled aside by a Raycom announcer, but his eyes were on his teammates the whole time.
The commentator realized this and told him to go and hang out with his ecstatic teammates who were posing for pictures with the trophy held high nearby. As Duke fans gathered near court side to watch the team, some of the Blue Devils commented on the victory, including coaches.
"There's nothing like it. You play to win championships and I am just so proud of them. These guys have grown up together and it's just a great feeling to win," said Chris Collins to Duke play ny play man Bob Harris when asked of his feeling of winning Duke's 9th ACC Tournament Championship in the last 12 years.
Withthe Duke band blaring in the background and flashes from cameras all around, Nolan Smith said, "It was terrific! We played our hearts out! We've been working hard all season long and we deserve it. I'm so proud ... I'm speeclhess right now. Now I get my hat and my (championship) shirt. Hanging a banner up there in Cameron means everything to me."
Krzyzewski made sure that his grandsons and family shared in the moment, motioning them down to the court as he smiled and enjoyed the moment. After all, Krzyzewski has encouraged the fans to live in the moment all season, and today, Duke fans all over the nation shared a smile with the living legend.
Lance Thomas said, "It (the ACC Championship) means the world to me. It feels good to actually accomplish something big like this. It's only motivation to want more. We needed everybody to contribute and this is something we are all going to share the rest of our lives."
In the background, the nets began to come down as the Blue Devils in customary fashion took turns cutting pieces of the net. Elliot Williams handed the scissors off to Gerald Henderson and a loud roar came from the Duke faithful.
Jon Scheyer then turned to Raycom and was asked if the team was playing it's best. "It's playing really well," said Scheyer who then continued, "I don't want us to get ahead of ourselves right now, but this championship is a good stepping stone going into the NCAA Tournament.
Before Scheyer could turn around, the voice of the Blue Devils was there for more comments. "It was a great day and it feels really good to get this win. We're not going to be satisfied and hopefully we can use it as a stepping stone going into the NCAA Tournament. " Sounds familiar, huh?
"It feels great. It was very important for us to get off to a good start in the first half. We shot the ball very well. We think we're playing our best basketball and winning this will give us great momentum going into the NCAA Tournament. We've just got to keep this thing going," said Duke standout Kyle Singler.
Singlers play earned him All Tournament team honors with teammates Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson.
"It's always good to be a champion and to be a part of this team now as a coach and have these guys go out there and play hard to get this championship means a lot to me just to be here and see them get it done," said Duke's newest assistant coach Nate James.
"We have such a good group of guys and they work so hard and they deserve this. It feels good to win in Atlanta," said the man known by some as Nate Dogg.
In the backdrop, Jon Scheyer who has just been named the tournaments most valuable player, stepped off the ladder after getting his cuts. Scheyer naturally was the recipient of rousing applause.
Coach K then said, "It means a lot (ACC Champions). I've been a part of some championships and a Duke player ... it's not a birthright that you get a championship. If you don't get one you will feel left out from the other guys and this group winning their first championship is huge. Especially, to win three tough games like they did."
Krzyzewksi then commented about the late season changes which proved successful. "This is a new team. We played about nine games with this lineup together. To have these three games with their pressure is like going through a month and a half of the season. So, it was really good. I don't think we'll be tired, but we will be a little more hardened."
Duke President Richard Brodhead chime in with the Duke Radio show as well, stating, "Today I was confident from beginning to end. It was still a struggle, but we had a great effort out there. There is a lot of basketball to be played and we're all 0-0 at this point going into the next phase. And you know what? Duke is going to be right in the middle of this thing. We have a great coach and a great staff and a tremendous group of young men."
The team then made their way to the Duke locker room to be among themselves. After spending some time there, it was off to the media room where the process of questions started again.
On a day where Duke made history and memories, the grind that is thrust upon student athletes probably didn't seem so bad. But in the back of their minds, they knew that the moment they were living in would have to be put on the back burner in the near future.
"Our kids played really hard for three days," said Krzyzewski as the session began. Indeed they did, Coach. But give yourself a little credit too. On a day when you became the sole owner of the fourth most wins in college basketball history it was clear for all that you and your staff coached hard for three days as well.
The combination of effort from the players and staff gave Duke fans a day in heaven and added to their long list of fond memories. The bottom line is that the Duke Blue Devils are the 2009 Atlantic Coast Conference Champions.
A special thanks to Moore Productions for some of these quotes.
It wasn't that long ago when people were writing off the Blue Devils after a road loss against Boston College. There were cries of this team has hit the skids or they are already burned out. During press conferences, the Duke players get the same questions over and over with concerns to fatigue.
Well, the Boston College loss seems long ago now and the 2009 Duke Basketball team closed out the season in style by winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship and now look to the NCAA's. Krzyzewski praised his juniors, stating that they had been through adversity, but a closer look shows a story behind practically every player. Here are some general thoughts on each player -
Kyle Singler- He has answered more questions concerning his physical being at the end of last season than he has his better moments this year. Krzyzewski semi jokingly asked the media to ask Singler a question after his stellar opening round game against Boston College. Make no mistake in that Singlers early play allowed Duke to advance. You can bet that he will hear another question this week with concerns to his playing every minute of every game of the tournament. Singler appears poised to make his presence felt, starting with Binghampton on Thursday. Singler made the All Tournament Team, but was still fifth in the voting which makes me wonder what games were some media members watching?
Dave McClure- The senior has been through enough ups and downs with injuries to where it was good to see how much he contributed as the consummate role player this season. His defense and hustle will be remembered as much as his shot to beat Clemson at the buzzer. McClure brought some toughness and senior leadership when the Devils needed it most. His back to back baskets against Maryland helped thwart comeback attempts.
Greg Paulus- Paulus has played through untimely injuries in the past two seasons. What does it say about a player who made an All ACC team the season before to accept a role on the bench? That takes character which is something Paulus has in spades. Always the competitor, one has the feeling he has a couple of big shots left before he finishes his career.
Brian Zoubek- Like McClure and Paulus, Zoubs has battled injuries galore in his career. The center grabbed some key boards versus Florida State. He has been able to come back and contribute after hitting a mid season slump. At some point and time, Zoubs is likely to get valuable minutes in this years tournament.
Lance Thomas- Thomas finds himself drawing tough defensive assignments. The minutes he logs should tell you what the coaches think about him. His hustling play is invaluable. Thomas is due for a good showing on the offensive end and what better time to do that than the NCAA's?
Elliot Williams - Duke could not have turned their season around if it were not for Elliot Williams play. Williams has had a tough learning curve as a freshman, but he grabbed key rebounds in the tournament and his skills are something which you cannot teach. He hit a slight wall of late, but he is still starting and his on ball defense will be crucial for a Devils run. Williams just needs to keep his head up and continue to let the game come to him while working on his outside shot.
Nolan Smith - Smith played great minutes in the tournament and his play was very important to Duke's championship effort. Much like Williams, Smith came alive at the right time when production was hard to come by. It appears that Smith has fully recovered from his injury.
Jon Scheyer- What can be said about Jon Scheyer? He took over running the point and is playing as good as anybody in the conference. Scheyer won the tournament MVP for a reason this weekend. He's showed no signs of becoming stale since Coach K made the change and he will be counted on heavily as Duke goes into the final days of March.
Gerald Henderson- Henderson came alive today and his play put Duke over the hump. When Gerald goes, Duke goes, so it's important for him to be consistent. Henderson seems to be on a mission and he has blossomed into a leader. The future is bright for Gerald and I implore you to worry about the here and now and not look ahead to anything other than this seasons games. If you look ahead in worry and not live in the moment, then you will miss out on a lot.
Olek Czyz, Marty Pocius and Mile Plumlee- When Nolan Smith drove down the throat of the Seminole defense for a dunk, Czyz and Plumlee jumped off the bench with authentic glee. Sure, these kids want some burn, but they are part of something special, a championship. Don't think they will not contribute in the NCAA's for I have seen some strange things happen with rotations. Still, they are a big help everyday in pushing their teammates in practice and supporting them. How comforting is it to know that Duke can go deep to players like Marty Pocius if needed?
Duke will now have to put the hard earned championship behind them and focus on the game Thursday evening. I would imagine they will be allowed to enjoy being ACC Champions through Monday, but then it will be back to business. In order for Duke's season to continue, each of the aforementioned players will have to find new ways to contribute, show up and make stops or a big shot when they have to.
Winning the ACC title is a wonderful achievement, but these guys can still make some more memories. No matter what happens, this team came together when they had to and now own a trophy and a banner. My guess, is that they are still hungry, but only time will tell if they advance further into March than recent years.