Duke makes Texas-sized statement

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The questions about whether Duke deserved to be No. 1 in the country were answered Saturday in front of a packed house at the Meadowlands.

With a tireless commitment on both ends of the floor against the No. 2 team in the nation, the Blue Devils proved that despite a recent shaky stretch, they have the capability to win it all this year.

It would be easy to overlook the completeness of Duke's performance because of J.J. Redick's dazzling offensive show. This game, however, should be noted as much more than that-this Blue Devil team finally lived up to its potential and dominated in all aspects of the game.

"It's a statement game for our team," senior Shelden Williams said. "For the first time, everyone out there was playing as one."

Duke outrebounded a tall Texas team with a true team effort-all five starters finished with at least four rebounds and none finished with more than seven. The Blue Devils shot a solid 53.4 percent from the field and only turned the ball over seven times. On the defensive end, Duke forced 16 Longhorn turnovers and limited its opponents to just 66 points.

Texas is a good team, even if the game's margin of defeat suggests otherwise. The Longhorns will still figure into the national title picture come March. They have a couple sophomores in point guard Daniel Gibson-who Sean Dockery shut down-and center LaMarcus Aldridge who could end up as All-Americans at their respective positions. But that didn't matter to Duke.

"Today was just about us trying to get better and trying to establish ourselves," Redick said. "We're still an unproven team, even though we're No. 1 in the country and undefeated. It's still a young season, we're still a young team that's developing, and we just wanted to establish ourselves against a great team like Texas."

Besides the ability to nail shots and hit the glass, the Blue Devils showed they also have the mental fortitude to win big games. They could have folded when the Longhorns launched a 9-2 run to open the second half and cut the lead to five.

But they were unfazed. After Krzyzewski called a quick timeout, Redick got a shooter's bounce on a long three-pointer and the team never looked back. The Blue Devils held Texas scoreless for the next five minutes and without a field goal for three more than that while pushing the lead over 20.

And once the team was up big, it did not stop playing smart or tough. With 36 points already under his belt and Duke up 25 with just less than 10 minutes left, Redick stepped in front of Texas forward P. J. Tucker and his 225-pound frame barreling down the lane on a fast break to take a charge.

Three minutes later, Williams, the Blue Devils' other senior star, chased down a loose ball on Duke's offensive end. The ball was seemingly out of his reach, but instead of giving up since Duke was already up 21, Williams dove to the ground and tapped the ball outside to Redick, who surprised nobody by nailing another three-pointer from the wing.

Even though they scored 41 and 23 points, respectively, all Redick and Williams wanted to talk about after the game was their teammates.

Their unselfish, lay-it-all-on-the-line attitude is starting to rub off on the freshmen too. Greg Paulus had five assists against just one turnover.

Josh McRoberts played under control and increased his effort on defense. With five minutes left in first half he received a Sean Dockery pass down low and dunked it home. As he sprinted back on defense, he broke up a pass near half court and took it all the way to the basket, this time for a two-handed tomahawk jam.

"We had a really good team performance," Krzyzewski said. "[Redick and Williams] don't say it but they feel like they're carrying those guys a little bit. When Greg and Josh become assertive like that it frees up the other guys."

Who knows why it took Duke this long to dominate against a good team. Maybe it's the dynamic mix of freshman and seniors. Maybe Krzyzewski had yet to unleash all of his offensive sets-he said he employed some new plays for Redick Saturday-or utilize all his motivational tools.

It doesn't matter now. Whatever it was worked. The Blue Devils now have a firm hold on the nation's top ranking and should continue to be seen as the team to beat in college basketball.

"I think the way that we played and the way that we're capable of playing showed that we are a top team," Williams said. "I don't think it matters right now if we're the No. 1 team or not because everything that matters is in March."


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