CORAL GABLES, Fla. — With 17:36 remaining in the second-half, Duke junior J.J. Redick collected the ball from senior Daniel Ewing and squared up to the basket, toeing the three-point line. With all eyes on the most dangerous outside shooter in college basketball, Ewing unassumingly cut to the hoop, hidden from the Miami defense. Noticing his fellow co-captain, Redick lofted the ball towards the goal. Ewing extended his athletic frame—then stretched even further to catch the high pass nearly two feet above the basket to slam the ball through the net.
Such was the night for the Blue Devils. Duke did everything it does well, only better and more pronounced in playing its best basketball game of the season.
The team shot 61 percent from the field, including an impressive 10-for-21 performance from behind the three-point line. Shelden Williams had a career-night, shooting 11-for-12 from the field and 8-for-8 from the charity stripe on his way to 30 points.
“We got [Williams] involved a lot tonight and exploit him down low,” Ewing said. “He did a good job of finishing buckets and not forcing it. He let the game come to him and when he didn’t have it, he kicked it out.”
Williams performance was so dominant that it obscured the contributions of Redick and Ewing, who combined for 37 points. When Miami had the ball, the Blue Devil perimeter defense held the leading scorer in ACC play, Robert Hite, scoreless until there was only 6:22 left in the game. The only thing that kept the score respectable was an inspiring performance by the underrated Hurricanes, whose effort never subsided even as Duke led by as much as 19 points late in the second half.
First-year Miami head coach Frank Haith was at a loss as to how to slow down a team playing as well Duke did Wednesday.
“I’m a bad coach man, I don’t know,” he joked when asked to explain how Duke shot better than 60 percent from the field. “What do you want me to say? They made a lot of shots. I think we contested a lot of shots. They had great execution, too. They’re getting better. If you go back and watch tape on them, they’ve been playing better over the last couple of weeks.”
Duke’s role players, too, had a better collective effort than at any other point this season. Lee Melchionni scored 14 points, demonstrating that his career-high 16-point performance at N.C. State Jan. 13 was not a fluke.
Sean Dockery nailed two three-pointers and DeMarcus Nelson’s only field-goal came at a key moment. With Duke holding onto only a one-point lead with 12:30 minutes remaining in the first half, Nelson glided into the lane and lofted a shot over the rumbling Hurricane big men to quiet an amplified crowd.
Although Miami was on the wrong side of an explosive performance from the No. 4 team in country, the Hurricanes did prove they belonged in the newly expanded conference. When Miami was admitted to the conference with Virginia Tech, many basketball purists claimed the expansion would hurt the conference’s hardwood reputation because of the Hokies and Hurricanes’ lack of interest and talent in basketball.
But for the Duke game, Miami students lined up for tickets hours before the game for the first time ever. On the court, Guillermo Diaz showed All-ACC potential, the Hurricane big men proved themselves as good of offensive rebounders as any team the Blue Devils have played thus far and Haith demonstrated an ability to inspire a squad to its maximum potential even when an opposing team seemingly could not be stopped.
“It was a really good ACC basketball game, I’m just glad we won,” Krzyzewski said. “[Haith] looks like a guy who’s been here for a while, not a guy in his first year. And his team looks like a team that has been coached by him for a while. I’m very impressed with what they’re doing.... They have good kids, I like their kids a lot. They’ve got a good spirit.”
Although Wednesday was clearly Duke’s night, the Blue Devils may need another impressive effort to get past the quickly improving Hurricanes March 3 in Cameron.
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