DURHAM, N.C.—It was an anxious first half for Duke’s Crazy Towel Guy: During nearly every Duke home game, the Cameron Crazies collectively chant his name in staccato secession—“Crazy Towel Guy”—until Herb Neubauer, the bald, bespectacled and legendary fan who sits high at center court, stands, howls and waves a white-and-blue towel around his head in tight little circles. Against Boston College Wednesday night, though, he needed no encouragement, at least in the first half. Less than eight minutes into the game, and then again, eight minutes later, Neubauer stood at his seat, screaming to the court, the towel falling limply from his left hand as he pleaded with his faltering Devils to pick up their game.
After a loss Saturday to Georgia Tech in Atlanta, everyone in Cameron Indoor Stadium expected the Blue Devils to return in dramatic fashion, to crush an Eagles team that’s struggled consistently this year and who lost to Maine in Boston earlier this month. But the Eagles had other plans, handing Duke their third consecutive half of challenging, physical play. They matched the Devils in nearly every statistical column for those 20 minutes, posting 14 rebounds to Duke’s 16, three steals to Duke’s four, and only six turnovers to Duke’s seven. Duke missed five of six threes, with both Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler missing two each. Mason Plumlee faltered on an under-the-basket put-back, while Nolan Smith flubbed an open court dunk. The Eagles found ways to score, though, matching Duke’s one three-pointer but, more importantly, scoring several points in the paint after dashing through the Devils’ defense. Duke’s two-man traps in the backcourt allowed the Eagles several chances to get in front of the squad, and—in a first half where the lead changed 12 times—they landed a load of easy shots. Boston College center Josh Southern ended the half with seven, while sophomore guard Reggie Jackson slashed for many of his nine, including an emphatic dunk that put the Eagles ahead 25-24.
The second half, then, might’ve been more like what the crowd of nearly 10,000 expected: Aside from two free throws by Eagle Joe Trapani, Duke forced a spree of turnovers and posted 16 unanswered points in the first five minutes after the return to the floor. Duke didn’t stop there, either, pushing the lead to as high as 26 points with just under four minutes left to play. Duke’s defense proved to be the pivotal factor, as it allowed multiple transition shots, including a graceful flip from Nolan Smith to Singler for a layup after a Smith-and-Thomas double-team on the perimeter. That hustling offense, stemming as it did from aggressive defense, was especially important considering that Duke continued to struggle from beyond the arc. In the second half, the Devils took four threes and missed them all. But Duke registered six assists to Boston College’s one and out-rebounded Boston College in the second half, too, 24-11. Brian Zoubek proved crucial to that last sum, grabbing a team-high 11 boards and scoring six points in the second half.
In what’s becoming a familiar pattern for the Devils this season, one component of Schmingler—the strong Duke perimeter of Scheyer, Singler and Smith—struggled through the game, only to let the other parts pick up the slack. Tonight, it was Duke guard Jon Scheyer, who scored only two more points than his season low of 10, though he did manage four assists with just one turnover. Smith who came up big, however, scoring 14 in the second half on his way to 24 for the game. That number matches his career best. And on the day The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper, preemptively proclaimed, “It’s time to bench Kyle Singler,” the junior forward scored 15 and grabbed 10 rebounds, posting his second double-double of the season.
“The first half of an ACC game is always close,” Smith explained in the locker room. “But you just have to keep fighting and fighting.”
Duke (14-2, 2-1 ACC) fights Wake Forest at home Sunday, while Boston College (10-7, 1-2 ACC) returns to Chestnut Hill to face the Maryland Terrapins Saturday.