Cameron Crazies all let out a collective sigh of relief. I’m not sure any of us expected this to be as tough a game as it was considering all of the advantages Duke had going in. East Carolina was coming in tired, having finally left the court at around midnight before having to get geared up to play a top 5 team. Secondly the fact that Duke was playing at home should have also been a huge advantage and of course the talent level at least on paper had Duke a clear favorite. The last thing I perused on the internet before I started watching the game was “trap game”, it didn’t phase me but perhaps it should have as it came to fruition. Duke got all it could handle and more from this team. Some of it was Duke and it’s execution and some of it was just a gritty determined and well coached team not getting lost in the moment.
Duke started the game reasonably well, nearly perfect for most of the first half, but couldn’t maintain a lead of more than 10-13 points, Duke went on several runs and got the lead to 18 but it was short-lived. Duke played like a team that was in a blow-out, all the while East Carolina just plugged away and ran their stuff. Duke ended the half with an 11 point lead but that was short-lived as the pressure seemed to get to Duke and ECU continued to spread Duke out and get to the rim, even running on Duke every chance it got. Duke seemed hesitant on offense and had trouble cracking the ECU zone.
Jabari Parker and Quinn Cook accounted for the early scoring for Duke. Quinn Cook seemed to be on a mission in the first half, scoring 14 for the game but only 3 of that in the second half. Cook also dished 10 assists to only 2 turnovers. Its a great line for Cook but there were a couple of negatives for Cook in the game as well. In the second half Cook took a few ill-advised shots that left some shaking their heads. Also there were a couple of plays where the junior over-penetrated and wasn’t able to finish plays or dish appropriately. The positive for Cook was that he wasn’t passive and played with a chippiness that hopefully carries on throughout the season. The issues that Cook did have are correctable and with a staff full of guards I expect the junior point guard to be sharp next time out. Parker had some serious moments in this game, again scoring over 20 points (21) as he has every game thus far this year. Parker dazzled in the first half but seemed to have some issues finishing for most of the second half. Word is he had some minor knee issues, but when Duke needed him he came through with a full court drive to the hoop right by the entire ECU team. He also blocked 2 key shots in the waning minutes of the game. Rodney Hood, though, deserves the game ball for breaking the zone and driving the ball to the lane. Hood kept Duke in the game in the second half with his mid-range game and drives. Hood would end up scoring 30 points and hitting 12 of 12 free throws in the game.
It was easy to fault Duke in this game for being confused by the zone and not stepping up defensively in the second half but some of that was due to the athleticism and determination of the opponent. They did not play like a team scared to be in Cameron and took and hit big shot after big shot. The game plan employed by Jeff Lebo was excellent and Duke fans should be aware that this team is not a cupcake and Duke is lucky to come out on top but also will benefit from this game going forward.
Duke will need to figure out a few things going forward. They will need to get rebounds, Jabari has been great on the boards but aside from Jabari the results have been pretty dismal. Duke will need to get more from Amile Jefferson and Rodney Hood on the boards. Boxing out has been an issue for this team that hopefully can be coached through. Bill Russell said this about rebounding: “A rebounder, or a shot-blocker for that matter, is always at a disadvantage if he tells himself the only way he can succeed is by out-jumping the guy next to him. Sometimes he will have to, but most of the time he will not. … Most of my rebounds came from positioning, where I was able to get the ball while in heavy traffic.”