Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wake 70, Duke 68

I don't often say this after losses, but that was a fun game to watch. Those were two very, very good basketball teams playing very, very good defense. It was a matchup of two top-5 teams that looked like exactly that. Wake excelled at their signature defensive skill - making it exceedingly difficult for the opponent to put the ball in the basket. Duke shot just 18-44 from 2 and 4-22 from 3, and almost every single shot was contested. Duke, for their own part, held Wake to its worst offensive performance of the season. I was thoroughly impressed with Wake's half court and transition defense - they are both long and quick, and Johnson and Aminu in particular did a surprisingly good job against smaller, more agile players in Henderson and Singler. I thought Johnson was Wake's best player yesterday - he forced several turnovers, blocked several shots, scored an efficient 13 points, and dished out three assists without turning it over himself. He was a presence on both sides of the court, and the reason the Deacs won the game (and no, I'm not just making the obvious point that he hit the game winner).

For Duke, the game was defined by the struggle to hit shots. Even during the 20-9 run that the Devils went on to close the games, they shot just 5-14, and 2-6 from downtown. Their comeback was fueled much more by defense (holding Wake to 9 points over the game's last 18 possessions) than by offense. Duke's defensive strategy at the end was something that other teams are going to use against Wake this year if Ish Smith is in the game - we played a hybrid zone, with Nolan Smith essentially playing safety in the middle of the court to double whoever had the ball. It's the right tactic - there's no real reason to guard Ish out on the perimeter, and having him take shots (which he did, twice, missing) is the best result for an opponent.

On Wake's side of the ball, the game revealed one of the flaws with foregoing the three-pointer so willingly. Wake had four more scoring possessions than Duke did, but scored only 2 more points (and this was even on a night when Duke's outside shooting went cold). Their style requires them to convert possessions into scores more frequently than opponents, who can use outside shooting to compensate for slightly lower success in scoring each time down the court.

Individually, Singler and Henderson carried the team offensively, although Gerald actually had his worst offensive performance in ACC play, on the back of 7 (yes 7) turnovers. He's still not terribly strong with his handle, and has a bit of a tendency to dribble into traffic and get stripped. But he hit some clutch shots throughout the game (reverse dunk and a foul, anyone?), none bigger than the silky smooth jumper to tie it up with 10 seconds left. Zoubek disappointed a bit - he held his own on defense, creating an obstacle for Wake to deal with in the paint, but couldn't convert at all offensively against big, athletic players. He missed all three of his shots, two on blocks (and honestly, I think the box score may be wrong on the third - I seem to recall that one being blocked too).

Smith and McClure turned in the top performances for +/- purposes, and it was all from defense. Duke held Wake to 38 points in 49 possessions when Dave was in the game, and 28 in 38 when Nolan was in (the two played 25 possessions together, during which Wake scored just 15 points). Dave in particular played superb - he checked everyone on Wake's end from Teague to McFarland, and few came away with points. While he was at it, he smothered the boards, picking up 12 rebounds and helping Duke hold Wake well below its average for offensive rebounding.

Here's the HD Box from last night's game:

No comments: