Thursday, February 15, 2007

Tri-captains reach deep for Duke

Before the season started, coach Mike Krzyzewski said Duke was going to have to count on junior DeMarcus Nelson and sophomores Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus for leadership.
Krzyzewski acknowledged that wouldn’t be easy. Nelson had suffered through two injury-plagued seasons. McRoberts and Paulus had deferred as freshmen to 2005-06 seniors Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick.
But Duke doesn’t have any seniors now, and Nelson, McRoberts and Paulus were the only players on the team with significant experience. They all have struggled at times this season.
Nelson and McRoberts were benched for the start of the North Carolina game last week because they weren’t performing up to Krzyzewski’s expectations. Paulus had zero points, one assist and six turnovers in an overtime loss to Virginia Tech and couldn’t stop freshman Greivis Vasquez from penetrating in Sunday’s defeat at Maryland.
In an urgent situation Wednesday, though, Duke’s tri-captains delivered their best combined effort. Duke was playing on the road, unranked for the first time in 381 games, thanks to a four-game losing streak.
McRoberts, Nelson and Paulus combined for 48 points, leading the Blue Devils to a 78-70 win against No. 21 Boston College, the ACC standings leader that trailed Duke by as many as 24 points in the game. McRoberts scored 18 and had 11 rebounds. Nelson scored 15, and his defense helped hold ACC player of the year candidate Jared Dudley to 11 points.
Paulus handed out seven assists to go with his 15 points. Combined, the three shot 21-for-33 from the field.
Winning one game doesn’t make Duke a Final Four contender and doesn’t even guarantee that the Blue Devils will get back into the top 25 next week. Nor does the play of the tri-captains Wednesday prove they will provide great leadership the rest of the way.
But on a night when Duke needed them most, McRoberts, Nelson and Paulus delivered. They can be proud of that after all that’s happened the past few weeks.
-- Ken Tysiac