A frustrating experience
Duke ready for new opponent in K.C.
Kansas City, Mo. ? After Duke University’s 71-56 victory against Air Force, coach Mike Krzyzewski turned to his players and asked if they were ready to practice against a less methodical offense.
“These guys can tell you they’re ready to defend something else,” Krzyzewksi said.
The Blue Devils will get the chance to do so in tonight’s College Basketball Experience title game against Marquette, which advanced by defeating Texas Tech, 87-72, in Monday night’s second semifinal in Municipal Auditorium.
Looking to run at every opportunity and finishing a few fast breaks with dunks off lobs to guards Dominic James and Wesley Matthews, Marquette (5-0) simply had more quickness than the Red Raiders (4-1) could handle.
Matthews, whose father, Wes, played against Texas Tech coach Bob Knight’s Indiana teams when he played for Wisconsin, led Marquette with 20 points and six assists, and fellow sophomores Jerel McNeal (19 points, seven assists) and Dominic James (16 points) supported him.
The Golden Eagles, embracing an up-tempo style, present a distinctly different style for Coach K’s young, talented Blue Devils.
Duke spent two days preparing for an efficient Air Force offense, which implements the Princeton fundamentals of back-door cuts and several meticulous passes before attempting a basket.
Duke (4-0), however, showed offensive prowess early in the game. The Blue Devils scored the game’s first five points and never surrendered the lead, shooting 61 percent overall and 73.9 in the first half.
“We really just executed pretty well,” sophomore Josh McRoberts said.
Considered by many to be Duke’s top player and a major NBA prospect, McRoberts scored only nine points, but his eight boards helped Duke out-rebound Air Force, 30-10. While lauding Duke’s play, Air Force coach Jeff Bzdelik, who coached the Denver Nuggets two years ago, lamented Air Force’s rebounding fundamentals.
“I don’t think we really put our body on people,” Bzdelik said. “You must get into your opponent and block him off because we’re undersized.”
Bzdelik’s team performed better in the second half, cutting a 14-point halftime deficit to seven with 8:08 to go, but the Falcons (3-1) could never dig themselves out of the hole caused by their lack of communication and defensive breakdowns in the first half.
“(We) gave Duke a lot of easy baskets,” Bzdelik said. “You’re not going to win playing a real good team when you allow them to shoot like they were.”
Duke junior DeMarcus Nelson took advantage of those miscues, leading all players with 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting, often scoring in a dizzying array of events.
With 16:04 left in the first half, he drilled a three and followed that up with steal and a dunk. With 16:25 left in the second half, Nelson completed another impressive sequence with a steal and an old-fashioned three-point play.
“I never doubt myself,” Nelson said.
While Nelson, the team’s only upperclassmen on Duke’s youngest team since World War II, shined, Duke also received contributions from two freshman starters – guard Jon Scheyer and forward Lance Thomas. Scheyer had 12 points, and Thomas scored 15.
“Those freshmen did a great job,” McRoberts said. “They’re well-prepared.”
Scheyer also helped out, manning the point guard position when sophomore Greg Paulus needed a breather. Paulus, who started at point guard as a freshman, had an uneven performance with eight points, six assists and six turnovers. But Krzyzewski lauded his presence.
“He’s still not in great shape,” Krzyzewksi said. “His verve created a lot of good stuff for us.”
During the second half, recent inductees into the National Association of Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, John Wooden and Dean Smith, were honored. Smith coached arch rival North Carolina in several heated contests.
“Was he there?” Krzyzewski asked. “Who was he rooting for?”
Monday’s second semifinal game featured another luminary coach, who likely will surpass Smith as the winningest college basketball coach. Knight, who trails Smith by six wins, coached Krzyzewksi at Army. Krzyzewski pulled for his father-like mentor to win the semifinal match.
“I’ll always cheer for Coach Knight – nothing against Marquette,” Krzyzewski said. “How can you not cheer for your father or your brother or your family member?”
Marquette coach Tom Crean fell from the coaching tree of Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, so there won’t be any sentimental angle for ESPN to play in hyping tonight’s matchup. But to hear Knight tell it, the two best teams in the tournament advanced to the final.
“We just simply ran into a team that is better than we are,” Knight said.
James, Marquette’s leader, wasn’t in a celebratory mood.
“Our job’s not done yet,” James said. “We’ve got to bring the same competitiveness we brought tonight.”
Tonight’s consolation game between Air Force and Texas Tech is at 7, and the Duke-Marquette title game will tip off about 30 minutes after the end of that game.