Friday, March 21, 2008

Too close for comfort for Duke

The Duke Blue Devils looked like they had seen a ghost.
And they had – their own.

They fully understood how close they had come to losing a game that one long-time Duke insider said would have been among the toughest losses in the program’s exceptional history. That’s not to diminish how good Belmont was – the Bruins were solid in so many ways – but a second straight first-round exit, especially as a No. 2 seed, would have blindsided Duke.

"Any time you can win in this tournament, it’s a good thing," Duke guard Greg Paulus said.

Watching Mike Krzyzewski during his post-game media conference, he looked as if he were still coming to grips with what had just happened. Part of it was probably the illness that has hit him this week – he sounded very hoarse after the game and not just because he’d barked so often at his players in the first half – and part of it was probably knowing how close his team came to going home.

Belmont did many things well – Bruins guard Alex Renfroe kept getting inside the Duke defense with his dribble penetration – and when Duke built a 10-point second-half lead, Belmont came back instead of wilting.

The Blue Devils can thank Gerald Henderson for keeping them in the NCAA tournament. He’s turning into an outstanding player and Duke needed everything he gave them because DeMarcus Nelson was a non-factor. Nelson made just one of six shots and made four turnovers.

Is the near-miss good for Duke?
Hard to say.
The Blue Devils didn’t play badly against Belmont but defensively they couldn’t dictate what their opponent did. If that happens Saturday, it will be bad news for Duke.

The good news for Duke is it has another game to play. That was in serious doubt Thursday night.