DURHAM, N.C., Jan. 24 --- Duke players charged into the locker room after a lukewarm shooting effort in the first half of Saturday’s game against Maryland. They had made 40 percent of their shots; only two players shot well.
But they enjoyed a 25-point lead. The game’s outcome was all but decided.
If there is any doubt why the Blue Devils will assume the top position in the polls this week, examine the first 30 minutes of their 85-44 demolition of Maryland. Say what you will about any deficiencies – such as the lack of an offensive post presence – but Coach Mike Krzyzewski has a bevy of interchangeable parts that comprise a defense that has been both tenacious and suffocating.
When asked how much of Duke’s success can be attributed to its defense, forward Lance Thomas said, “all of it. It’s the foundation of our team … We have kept telling ourselves we were going to put together a defensive masterpiece, but we had never done it until today. We were relentless.”
The 44 points marked the fewest by Maryland in the shot-clock era. At one point, Duke students chanted, “More than 40!” It was a legitimate question: How low would Maryland go? Midway through the second half, the scoreboard read: 71-29.
Only three Maryland players scored in the first half. The Terrapins had five more turnovers than field goals in the half. And Landon Milbourne, who scored 15 of Maryland’s first 31 points, finished the game as the only Maryland player in double figures.
Through five ACC games, Duke has yet to allow an ACC opponent to score 60 points. Duke’s largest lead --- 44 points --- matched Maryland’s point total.
“That,” Maryland Coach Gary Williams said of the defense, “is as good as anybody.”
Krzyzewski attributes the defensive prowess this season to improved communication and experience, but other factors also help give the Blue Devils the conference’s best field-goal percentage defense.
Nolan Smith’s emergence as Duke’s starting point guard has enabled the Blue Devils to pressure the ball-handler more effectively. As Maryland can attest, it was extremely difficult to penetrate into the lane. The Terrapins got few open shots, as Duke finished with 12 blocks, its highest total this season.
What’s more, Duke rarely faces mismatches defensively because its forwards --- Kyle Singler, David McClure and Thomas --- have relative size and athleticism. As a result, the forwards can switch on ball screens without losing ground defensively when they find themselves covering smaller guards.
“Duke looked more athletic in terms of one-on-one situations,” Williams said. “They didn’t need to help a whole lot to stop our people with the ball.”
Maryland senior Dave Neal said Saturday marked the first game he can recall where a defense he faced had so much success by switching on every ball screen.
“They took us out of our offense,” Neal said.
Since losing to Michigan on Dec. 6, Duke has not allowed more than 70 points in a game. The once-beaten Blue Devils will face a more challenging test Wednesday at Wake Forest. Duke has flaws, but its defense has a way of masking imperfections.
“We do” have weaknesses, Duke’s Jon Scheyer said. “Today we didn’t show many. We played great defense.”
January 24, 2009; 4:12 PM ET
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