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After Mixed Results, Brutal Slate Ahead

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff



February 6, 2007

DURHAM – The past, present and future of Duke basketball seemed to come together recently at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The unique nature of the week was symbolized on Sunday night, Jan. 28, as the 2007 Blue Devils beat Boston College to extend their ACC winning streak to five games. Seated just behind the Duke bench was 2006 All-American Shelden Williams, on hand to have his No. 23 jersey retired during a halftime ceremony. Seated just behind Williams was Patrick Patterson, a 6-8 prep All-American whom Duke is pursuing for the 2007-08 Devils.

Patterson, who also is being recruited by Virginia and Wake Forest in the ACC (as well as Kentucky, Florida and West Virginia), was in Durham for the Tuesday night HoopHall Classic, a prep tripleheader in Cameron that also featured Duke signees Taylor King and Nolan Smith. About 3,000 people showed up to see Smith lead Oak Hill Academy to a three-point victory over King's Mater Dei High School.

Both Duke-bound prospects played well. The 6-7 King poured in 32 points and showed off the dazzling long-range shooting skills that have made him a big name in prep circles since his eighth-grade year. Smith, the son of former Louisville and NBA standout Derek Smith, is a quick, polished 6-4 combo guard.

"(Smith) is up there with the best I've had," veteran Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said. "He's a leader – the only junior captain I've ever had. I don't know how I'm going to replace him. I know I get good players every year, but it's hard to replace a guy like him. Nolan's going to have a great career here."

Duke could have used Smith's athleticism two nights later in Charlottesville. Maybe he could have used his defensive skills to help contain J.R. Reynolds and Sean Singletary. The veteran guards combined for 42 of Virginia's points in a 69-66 overtime win that snapped Duke's winning streak at five. And the Devils definitely could have used King's offensive skills to jump-start an attack that went almost nine minutes down the stretch without a field goal.

"It's amazing how (King) can score inside and out," his prep coach Gary McKnight said. "He's going to really stretch people."

Patterson's inside skills also would have been useful in Charlottesville. He played very well in the Hoophall Classic. His 20 points and 12 rebounds helped Huntington knock off California's Artesia High even after his celebrated teammate O.J. Mayo fouled out.

But even though Patterson left with some lavish words of praise for Duke and Cameron, he's far from in the Blue Devils' bag. In fact, Virginia remains a strong contender for his services, as do Kentucky and Florida.

Either way, Duke's basketball future is in at least as good shape as the Devils' recent past. But the prep extravaganza and the back-to-back Sunday ceremonies retiring the jerseys of 2006 All-Americans Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick (at halftime of Duke's home game with Florida State on Super Sunday) served only to highlight the perilous present.

This young Duke team, after starting 0-2 in the league, managed to keep its head above the ACC waters with those five straight wins in the conference. True, three of those were over the league's three worst teams, while the other two were home-court victories over Clemson and Boston College.

Still, every ACC win is precious, as the Devils may find as they embark on a murderous February schedule. That's why the loss at Virginia was so frustrating. Duke led almost all the way but faltered offensively down the stretch and missed good chances to win at the end of regulation and in overtime.

"Both teams put their hearts into the game," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It's a great win for them and a tough loss for us. But that's life in the ACC."

Life in the ACC may get a lot tougher for Duke in the coming weeks if the Blue Devils keep breaking down on offense. Coach K's team is dead last in the ACC in scoring average and ranks near the bottom in assist/turnover ratio and shooting percentage.

The good news is that Duke did show some offensive spark during its five-game winning streak, and even the offensive struggles against Virginia were nothing like the misery the Blue Devils endured earlier this season. The Devils committed just 10 turnovers in 45 minutes against the Cavs and were shooting well over 50 percent until the cold spell late in the game.

Even then, Duke got some very good looks. Jon Scheyer's wide-open three-pointer with the Blue Devils up six and just under two minutes left could have been a dagger. And the Devils got good opportunities at the end of regulation, when Josh McRoberts drove for a short jumper that bounced off the rim, and in overtime, when with just one second left McRoberts hit Greg Paulus with a three-quarter-court inbounds pass for a wide-open three-point look.

The problem is that Duke now has lost twice in overtime within the league, leaving the Devils little margin for error in an upcoming stretch of games that starts with a matchup against powerful North Carolina in Cameron, then includes tough road games at Maryland, Boston College and Clemson.

At least there was some recent good news.

The knee injury that David McClure suffered late in the victory over BC turned out to be far less serious than first believed. McClure, who has emerged as a key player this season after missing all of last year with a knee injury, re-injured the same knee that required surgery after the 2005 season. While an MRI quickly ruled out new structural damage, McClure at first was projected to miss two or three games with a hyper-extended knee. Instead, he bounced back to play 27 minutes at Virginia, just four days after the injury.

In addition, freshman forward Lance Thomas, whose progress was slowed in late December and early January by an ankle injury and a bout with the flu, is healthy again and appeared to be back on track with strong showings against BC and UVa.

So, while Duke's present might not be quite as bright as the program's immediate past and near future, the Devils aren't going away this year, either.

REWIND: ABOUT THAT CLOCK ERROR

The uproar over the timing error in the final seconds of the Duke-Clemson game was justified. Duke was given an additional few seconds – somewhere between 1.5 and 2.0 seconds – to score the winning basket against the Tigers after Vernon Hamilton had tied the game with a three-pointer.

However, the criticism that descended on Duke's scorekeeper was misguided. Only a handful of reporters – most notably Lenox Rawlings of the Winston-Salem Journal and Jay Bilas of ESPN – bothered to find out that the clock was controlled not at the scorer's table, but by the officials.

The ACC uses a system called Precision Time, which allows the officials to stop the clock with their whistle and to start it with a switch on their belts. The Duke scorekeeper – who happens to be Tommy Hunt, the recently retired ACC director of football officials (and, for conspiracy theorists, a UNC graduate) – had nothing to do with starting the clock when Hamilton stole McRoberts' inbounds pass.

In itself, the clock error was not that unusual. There were similar problems at the end of the Maryland at Virginia Tech game and near the end of the Virginia Tech at Duke game. But both of those mistakes were corrected after the officials checked the time on the courtside TV monitor, and no harm was done.

The real mistake in the Duke-Clemson game was that when the officials went to the monitor to check the clock, they totally misread the situation. They reset the clock to where it was when Hamilton's shot cleared the net, but they ignored the earlier problem, that the clock did not start when he initially touched the ball.

So, it's fair to blame the officiating crew for giving Duke a two-second break it did not deserve. But don't blame the Blue Devils' scorekeeper, because he had nothing to do with it.