In the men's basketball locker room, there are sheets of paper hung up next to each player's locker with words of inspiration from Duke's head coach. One line reads, "Out of adversity, a winner finds opportunity."
So far this season, Greg Paulus has faced plenty of adversity, from a preseason foot injury to recent turnover troubles. But Saturday night against Georgetown, Duke's point guard heeded his coach's words, leading the Blue Devils in their second-half comeback.
In doing so, Paulus left no doubt that his game is rounding into shape after a tough stretch and that his progress will be a major factor in this Duke team's success.
After coming off the bench and playing a total of 43 minutes in Duke's previous two wins over Davidson and Indiana, Paulus was back in head coach Mike Krzyzewski's starting lineup against the Hoyas. The move did not immediately pay off, as Paulus turned the ball over three times in the first half, and Duke's offense produced eight total field goals.
The second half, however, was a different story. Paulus scored all of his 13 points in the period, turning the ball over just once more-the one give-away was on an offensive charge call near Duke's bench that easily could have gone the other way. Paulus' increased efficiency translated directly into better play for the whole team, and the Blue Devils bounced back from a seven-point halftime deficit to win by nine.
Despite experiencing fatigue and appearing to favor his foot at times, Paulus played a season-high 35 minutes.
"Tonight we said, 'It's time to break some limits-you have to play more than 20 minutes and go after it,'" Krzyzewski said. "[Paulus] got off to a little bit of a shaky start, but then he really showed a lot of poise and toughness. He's still not in the shape that he will be in, but he played with a lot of courage tonight."
With Georgetown up 49-47 at the 6:12 mark of the second half, Paulus scored the Blue Devils' next six points. A minute after making two free throws, the sophomore captain tipped a Roy Hibbert miss to himself and took the ball coast-to-coast for the layup. On Duke's next possession, Paulus finished over the 7-foot-1 Hibbert on a beautiful drive to the basket. From there, The Blue Devils would never relinquish their lead.
"He seemed a lot more assertive and a lot more aggressive in the second half," Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said. "It seemed like the first half, he was trying to get everyone else involved in the game, but in the second half he decided to get himself involved."
Paulus' play was not perfect Saturday night. Even while leading Duke's charge, he did not pick up any assists in the second half, and he also air-balled a three-pointer. Still, not coincidentally, his improvement mirrored that of the team's.
With Paulus doing the majority of the ball-handling for Duke, Jon Scheyer and Josh McRoberts were freed up to focus on scoring on the offensive end. Scheyer scored all nine of his points in the second half, and McRoberts gave what Krzyzewski called a "star" performance. The Blue Devils' offense may have only scored 61 total points, but its rhythm in the second half picked up, and it displayed some promise for the rest of the season.
More than that, Paulus showed his leadership qualities by fighting through injury and fatigue to lead Duke to the victory.
"I tried to hide it as much as possible, I just wanted to stay in the game," Paulus said. "In that kind of game, you're just thinking, 'What do I have to do to help us-do I have to get a rebound, double-team in the post.' I wasn't thinking about my foot at all."
Throughout his tumultuous beginning to the season, some observers have questioned Paulus' ability to run Duke's offense. During halftime of the Georgetown game, one visiting reporter even said the Blue Devils would be better off without him.
Paulus left no doubt during the second half, however, that Duke is certainly better off with him running the point. His ball-handling might still need some work, but the smart plays he made and the way he took charge of the game showcased his potential as the leader of the Blue Devils' offense.
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