by Matt Saldaña
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM – With less than two minutes to play in the first half of Duke's 43-point rout at Cameron Indoor Stadium, UNC Asheville was within striking distance of the No. 6 team in the country. After Asheville's leading scorer, Reid Augst, hit a pair of free throws to make it 46-35, Duke turned the ball over, then committed a lazy foul. Yet on the ensuing inbounds pass, backup point guard Matt Dickey watched as the ball went through his hands and out of bounds. The Blue Devils responded with a soaring dunk, on their own inbounds pass, by Gerald Henderson. Two plays later, Henderson stole the ball, and passed it up the court to Kyle Singler, who dunked once again, making it 50-35. The Bulldogs never got closer.
The story of Wednesday night's game was Coach Mike Krzyzewski's decision to start a group of B-Teamers, led by now-backup point guard Greg Paulus: David McClure, Miles Plumlee, Martynas Pocius and Elliot Williams. The starting nods were mostly nominal, as Duke's "bench" scored 72 points, including 12 or more points from each of its traditional starters. After the game, Krzyzewski said the move was intended to boost his backup players'--and in particular, Greg Paulus'--confidence. Paulus played well, going 4-8 from three-point range, and finishing with 12 points and 3 assists. But, sophomore point guard Nolan Smith was the star of the night, mimicking Paulus' stat line and commanding a true presence on the court.
"Clearly against Michigan, we had a lot of trouble with the zone," Smith said after the game, referring to Duke's first loss of the season. "Against the zone [tonight] we settled down--and had only three turnovers as a team in the second half. I had the ball in my hands, and I calmed down. When the point guard was calm, I feel like the team was calm. Everything just ran smoothly in the second half."
Saturday's game against undefeated, No. 7 Xavier will provide the team's toughest challenge yet. If Paulus can head up a talented, though relatively untested, group of backups to complement Smith's starting five, the Devils may be ready to reclaim their spot among the top five teams in the country. If anything, Wednesday night's showcase was a reminder that Duke has depth at every position--it's just a matter of how well they can use it.