Duke was really, really lucky to win because despite significant foul trouble, Davidson never let up and was the more aggressive team for much of the game. If Paulus hadn’t hit a couple of key shots down the stretch, it could have been a different story.
It wasn’t a big surprise that Davidson hung around for much of the first half, just as it wasn’t a big surprise that Duke built a 13 point lead and started to pull away after Davidson pulled Curry when he got his second early foul. It was after that that the script changed.
Davidson cut the lead back to nine with two late baskets at the end of the first half. And in the second half, they came out and lived up to their nickname, scoring seven points and shutting Duke out for more than four minutes before Coach K called an angry time out. During the timeout, according to Matthew Lawrence, DeMarcus Nelson took control first, challenging his teammates to start playing. Coach K then told them that they were playing selfishly and were lucky to be ahead at all.
After the timeout, Nelson came out and immediately nailed a three.
In the usual Duke script, this is another point where Duke hits the afterburners and blows a would-be challenger away. Didn’t happen. And while Duke often wins games like this when the other team gets into foul trouble, Davidson did: Curry played the final twelve minutes with four, Thomas Sanders picked up four, Jason Richards and Boris Meno finished with three each. That’s another point where Duke usually kills. But not this time. Davidson kept pushing and didn’t back down in the slightest. As a matter of fact, for the most part, Davidson was the more aggressive team.
As well as they played, though, Davidson couldn’t quite catch up. But Duke couldn’t ditch them, either. Every time Duke built up a lead, Davidson chopped it back down.
And when Stephen Curry cut it to a three point game with 1:08 left, it was anybody’s ball game. And that’s when Paulus stepped up. He hit a three point shot with 1:21 left, then a jumper with :33 left, and sealed the deal with a steal in the closing seconds. It was an impressive clutch performance by the junior point guard to say the least.
In many respects, Davidson deserved to win, and if we weren’t Duke fans, we would have pulled for them. It’s impossible not to admire their effort.
But as tough as they were, and as experienced a team as Davidson is, they didn’t have the level of athleticism Duke did, and certainly they had no answer for Gerald Henderson, who had perhaps his best game at Duke.
Henderson ended up with 21 points, eight boards, four assists and three blocks. Folks in Charlotte got to see what folks in Cameron have seen several times so far this season: Henderson can really, really soar. Corey Maggette remains the standard at Duke for athleticism, but Henderson isn’t that far behind.
Individually, Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer also had solid games. Singler had 14 points and 12 boards, while Scheyer had 15 points. Nelson had 11 points, five boards and three assists. Paulus’s stat line was almost indentical - 11 points, four boards and four assists.
At one point in the broadcast, Coach K, according to Matthew Lawrence, said his players were being selfish. Next to not playing with passion, that’s about the worst thing a Duke player could be acccused of. They responded to that though, and began to play together. And in fairness, they’ve had six games in 12 days, which is a tough haul, not to mention the traveling.
After the game, Krzyzewski noted that the heavy schedule made it difficult to practice thoroughly, which is critical for a younger team which may not entirely know the ropes.
After this game, they’ll likely get a small break and then get ready for Michigan, as the Wolverines return to Cameron for their first post-Amaker trip to Durham (we’re guessing Coach K will take some exception to the Wolverines having fired his old point guard and protege.
Still, despite struggling somewhat in this game, Duke won, and struggling isn’t necessarily the worst thing for a young team. You’re going to go through some adversity, and if you can deal with it and still win the game, that’s great news.