Commentary

Fowler: Duke-Davidson game had NCAA tournament feel

sfowler@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 3, 2013 

Glance only at the score and you will yawn and imagine it was just another routine night.

It wasn’t. Even though the outcome was expected – No.1 Duke beat Davidson 67-50 Wednesday night in Time Warner Cable Arena – it was a very entertaining evening, and quite a game until early in the second half when Davidson forgot how to score.

Davidson got a rare chance to host and hang with America’s best team, playing the game on the Charlotte Bobcats’ home floor in front of 13,607 fans and an ESPN2 audience. Duke got a chance in the second half to show why it remains America’s best team, throttling Davidson on defense and playing smarter basketball after a first half that ended at 29-all.

“They’re a tough out,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of the Wildcats afterward.

“We didn’t make layups and we missed open jump shots,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. “…. But maybe some of that had to do with fatigue. They wear you down.”

It felt like March – like a defense-first tournament game between two teams whose fans care and whose players don’t mind floorburns. Every basket was cheered, with about 2/3 of the sizeable crowd wearing Davidson red and the other third in Duke blue. And the officials never caught a break – they were booed vociferously after every whistle, while the fans whose team had gotten the advantage nodded quietly in agreement.

For awhile, this game felt a little like Duke-Lehigh did last March in Greensboro, when No.15 seed Lehigh stunned No.2 seed Duke in the NCAA tournament. That was the last game the Blue Devils lost that counted.

In the first half, Davidson couldn’t hit open threes. The Wildcats lost big man Jake Cohen for most of the first half with two fouls in the first three minutes. And they still were in the game for all 20 minutes, tying it at 29-all on De’Mon Brooks’ putback just before halftime. The Wildcats’ defense and rebounding kept them alive, and it helped that Seth Curry had two airballs in the first six minutes and Mason Plumlee got frustrated by Davidson’s double-teams and had only two points and four turnovers in the half.

But Davidson absolutely couldn’t score for the first six minutes of the second half, going 0 for 9 on its first nine possessions. The Frisbee dogs who performed at halftime used the hardwood more effectively. Duke scored 12 straight points to make it 41-29 before Davidson got a basket.

By then it was too late. You are not going to catch No.1 Duke with a 12-point lead, even if you play OK the rest of the time. Your only real chance if you don’t have the sheer talent of Duke is to stay close all the way, which Lehigh did in its upset and Davidson did for 23 minutes.

Credit Davidson for that much, and credit Duke for becoming Duke in those first six minutes of the second half, beating Davidson for the 24th straight time but having to sweat to do it.

It was fun – a taste of March in early January, and a night that will ultimately make both teams better.

Scott Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler

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