by Matt Saldaña
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM – Following an impressive victory over Houston in the first round of the 2K Sports Classic hosted at Cameron Indoor Stadium, unranked Georgia Southern fell to Duke 97-54 Tuesday night. The game was decided in the first few minutes, as Duke—ranked number 5 in the nation by the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll—capitalized on strong defense and superior rebounding to overwhelm the scrappy Southern Conference team. Indeed, Duke’s 33 second-chance points, and 24 points off turnovers, surpassed their opponent’s entire offensive output. Sophomore power-forward Kyle Singler was dominant, racking up a team-high 19 points and 8 rebounds off baseline drives, steady put-back shots and frequent trips to the free-throw line, where he was 9-for-12.
“Each game presents a different style,” Singler told the Indy. “This game, I didn’t have any open shots. What was there were put-backs and points at the line.”
Overall, though, Duke shot just over 50 percent at the line—including an abysmal 1-for-8 from the explosive junior power forward, Lance Thomas. Coach Mike Krzyzewski attributed the low free-throw percentage to players “losing a bit of concentration” once the clock was stopped.
“It’s November 11,” he said. “The familiarity of playing hard, and stop-action, is something you have to get used to.”
But when the clock was running, the Blue Devils were unstoppable. Singler, it appeared, was everywhere at once. In one series, he scored baseline, then grabbed a one-handed rebound on the opposite end, drove the ball up himself, and dished it to shooting-guard Jon Scheyer for a three. Later, Scheyer stole the ball at mid-court, and gave it back to Singler for a dunk. (Scheyer had 8 points, 3 steals, and a team-high 7 assists.)
Sophomore Nolan Smith, who started over senior Greg Paulus at point guard for the second game in a row, had a solid showing of 13 points, including a breakaway one-handed dunk, though no assists. Scheyer, and others, were there for the extra pass, and Singler was often in place to help himself to a put-back in the paint. In one notable play, Paulus—who made an immediate defensive impact when he entered midway through the first half, despite modest offensive numbers (11 points, 1 assist)—lobbed a cross-court pass to Smith, who missed the shot, but was greeted with a hug by Paulus. If there’s any love lost between the competing point guards, neither of them show it.
After the game, Krzyzewski deflected a question about whether Smith had earned a permanent starting role at the point, noting that Paulus was still recovering from a knee injury. He added that the two guards will share time in the backcourt, though he did not speculate where Scheyer, the team’s lanky shooting-guard, would fit in. Because of Scheyer’s size—at 6-5, a mere 185 pounds—most match-ups will force Krzyzewski to rotate the three players, and Scheyer should see heavy playing time. A diminishing role for Paulus—the team’s leader—may be inevitable, as long as Smith can prove himself as a playmaker.
“We feel good about what’s happening at that position, but also, that those two kids can play together,” Krzyzewski said of Smith and Paulus, hinting at a possible transfer of power between the ACC's leading active assist-maker and a potential future star.
He added of Paulus, who he said was not yet at “100 percent:” “He’s coming on. He’s won a lot of ballgames for us, and he’s in a position to win a lot more for us.”
Note: On Tuesday, the Duke student section (comprised of self-styled “Cameron Crazies”) lived up to its reputation for noisy irreverence, picking on individual Georgia Southern players until the final minute of regulation. In a game that contributed to cancer research (the 2K Sports Classic benefits Coaches vs. Cancer), and was a blowout by the end of the first half, hecklers paid a curious amount of attention to the visiting team’s genetic characteristics. Georgia Southern was far shorter than Duke, particularly when it came time for both teams to clear their benches. (This season, Duke boasts an excess of inexperienced big men competing for playing time, while Georgia Southern has plenty of undersized guards at the end of the bench.) Thus, in stadium-wide cheers penned on a white board behind the press section, six-foot guard Antoine Johnson became “Little Johnson,” and 5-10 freshman backup Blake Thompson was called “Tiny Tim.” When 6-2 guard Willie Powers dunked, one student inexplicably yelled, “You’re still short.” Careful not to discriminate, the section devised a deafening chant of “Shrek” (along with variations of “ogre” and “oaf”) for Krzysztof Janiszewski, Georgia Southern’s brawny, seven-foot backup center. Not your typical peanut gallery, Cameron's student section is notable for its relentless cohesion of heckling, a product of its unusual proximity to the court—and, as it turns out, an investment in white boards and dry-erase markers. Unlike the sport they were watching, everyone in the crowd had a shot at becoming a cheerleader.