When the final statistics from the men's basketball team's 82-60 victory Saturday over Xavier were passed around the Duke locker room after the game, senior co-captain Tony Lang was surprised.
"Gosh darn, Chief had 20 rebounds," Lang said. "There aren't that many to go around. Maybe if he'd had 10, I could have had 10."
Alas, "Chief" -- also known as junior center Cherokee Parks -- dominated the boards to such a great extent that Lang could only grab four rebounds. Parks' 20 boards were the most by a Blue Devil since Randy Denton -- father of the "dunking ball boy" who entertained Duke fans two years ago -- had 25 rebounds in a game against Northwestern on December 29, 1970.
"Cherokee was absolutely amazing," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "For a big guy to be that into the game and really not be an integral part of the offense, for him to maintain his concentration and everything was just a very mature performance by Cherokee."
Going into the game, the Blue Devils emphasized that their defensive intensity and rebounding -- two areas in which the team had struggled in its games against relatively small teams from Northeastern and The Citadel -- would need to improve against the Musketeers. This meant that Parks and junior Erik Meek would need to play with more emotion and better concentration than they had thus far this season.
"The first two teams we played against averaged maybe 6-4 or 6-5, and for them to outrebound us, especially on the offensive end, was really depressing," Parks said. "Tonight was a big opportunity for us to go out and play against a big team and keep them off the boards. It feels really good to actually have a game like that."
Parks did more than dominate the boards. With help from senior co-captain Grant Hill, he defended Xavier`s All-America candidate Brian Grant. Although Grant finished with 16 points, he did not dominate the game.
"[Grant] didn't have many open looks, which was a big key for the game," Krzyzewski said. "Our defense was pretty darn good tonight."
Despite his monstrous rebounding statistics against the Musketeers, which included nine offensive boards, Parks felt that his accomplishments were more the product of a strong team effort than of an individual one.
"Everything we did was as a team," he said. "Points were team points and rebounds were team rebounds. So we played together and nobody worried about getting their own thing and collectively that brought us up."
The Blue Devils did not rely only on Parks to battle inside the paint. Coming off the bench Meek had seven points and nine rebounds, including six on the offensive end. However, perhaps his most surprising play of the game came with 9:50 remaining in the first half. Meek slapped the ball from a Xavier player and gracefully swiped it from the floor for a steal.
"It's the best that Erik's ever played," Krzyzewski said. "He was relentless, he just kept going after things. I'm really happy with the big guys."
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
The rebounding statistics for the game were nothing short of spectacular. The Blue Devils outrebounded Xavier 59-26. In fact, Duke had as many offensive rebounds as the Musketeers had overall.
"Our rebounding was obviously a disaster," Xavier head coach Pete Gillen said. "Fifty-nine to 26 is the worst I can remember our team losing the battle of the boards. They're probably the biggest team in Division I that I know of -- certainly one of the top seven or eight."
Duke's big men, however, were not dominating the boards by themselves. Nearly every player on the court contributed to the Blue Devils' inside effort in some way.
"The perimeter guys were doing a great job of going on the offensive end -- being aggressive, going to the hole," Parks said. "So when they were driving, Xavier was collapsing and that was leaving it open for myself and Erik Meek and Antonio Lang to get on the boards."
Although Parks and Meek had not put up impressive numbers so far this season, their strong efforts against Xavier did not come as a shock to the team.
"Cherokee has done some unbelievable things in practice," Krzyzewski said. "It doesn't surprise me. I really believe that Cherokee has a workman-like type attitude."
Parks said that his performance -- and that of the team -- in the first two games, did not reflect the potential which he has demonstrated in practice. The win against Xavier is indicative of the level at which the Blue Devils' post players are capable of competing.
"We play like that in practice every day, which was what was so frustrating," he said. "I always feel like we are capable of playing like that."
The difference between the Blue Devils' performance on Saturday and their efforts in their first two contests is one of recognizing their potential. In order to improve, the team must play more consistently.
"It's tough," Parks said. "We had the problem last year of playing up and down all the time. It's just a matter of playing 40 minutes of hard basketball. When you are diving for the ball and playing great defense and people are driving to get dunks, it brings everybody up."
Krzyzewski believes that the maturity which Parks showed with his intensity against Xavier will become a fixture on the court for the Blue Devils.
"I think he's become more of a man," Krzyzewski said. "He's a terrific player. We've got to find some ways of getting the ball a little bit more."
For Duke to become a more dominant team, Parks and Meek must prove that they can play well every game. It should not be hard for them to find motivation against teams as big as Xavier or against teams of the caliber of Michigan -- whom they will face in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Saturday -- and North Carolina. However, Duke's big men need to demonstrate that same level of intensity and concentration when they face smaller squads.
This inconsistency also plagued the Blue Devils last season, when Parks was a ferocious presence in some games and barely a factor in others. It may be easier for Parks to play more consistently this season since Duke is deeper at the center position. Against the Musketeers, Meek made it clear that he is capable of holding his own against an opponent of the caliber of Grant. Also, freshman Greg Newton, who saw only three minutes of action Saturday, has been a positive addition this season, having excited the team when he has come off the bench.
Parks will have a perfect opportunity to show that he has improved his maturity and consistency tonight by exploiting the lack of size in South Carolina State's lineup. If this happens, the Blue Devils will become even more difficult for most teams to beat, because, as Gillen mentioned, very few teams can match Duke's depth of talent at the center position.
Maybe Duke's big men will even be so generous that they will allow Lang to grab a bigger share of the rebounding statistics.