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Eagles can't ground Duke's flight

301 FLOWERS - When I arrived at the U.S. Airways terminal at RDU Wednesday morning, I watched as my fellow Chronicle reporter swiped his credit card into the self check-in:

"Flight 1770 to Boston has been cancelled."

We went to the nearest ticket agent, who pecked intently at his keyboard, sighing occasionally as if he were looking at difficult and top-secret information.

We had about a two-percent chance of actually making it to Boston before tip-off-if we flew to Charlotte, made the connection 10 minutes after landing in Washington D.C., and then actually took off from Reagan, where flights had been cancelled all day, to Boston.

Needless to say, hundreds of flights were cancelled at Logan International as a result of the blizzard-like conditions, and I had the true privilege of coming back to campus and hearing Dick Vitale's color "commentary" on yet another Duke game on TV.

Hey, there's a silver lining in everything.

Dicky V named Bob Huggins as coach of his all-Valentine's team, which was great because while Huggins' players will never get diplomas, some random athletes with gushy names will be the proud recipients of valentines.

The other consolation--and what you're really interested in reading about--is that the Blue Devils finally won. The last time they had done that was, well, over the Eagles Jan. 28.

When Duke took the court in Chestnut Hill, Mass., it didn't look like the team that had just fallen out of the national rankings for the first time in 200 weeks. It didn't even look like the team that was in jeopardy of giving its coach his first-ever five-game losing streak in his 27-year tenure at Duke.

No, the Blue Devils looked like a team that actually knew how to play with the "Duke-swagger"-the attitude that inspires fans of opposing teams to still rush the court, even when Duke is struggling to stay at .500 in the ACC.

"We just wanted to come out and play with a lot of confidence," junior DeMarcus Nelson said. "We knew this was going to be a battle, so to come out and play-that was our game plan."

Led by sophomore Josh McRoberts, Duke attacked the basket in the first half and went into halftime with an 11-point cushion. McRoberts, who went 9-for-13 from the field, finished the game with 18 points and 11 rebounds, grabbing eight of those boards before intermission. As a team, Duke kept Boston College from getting a single rebound for more than eight minutes at the end of the first half by converting on easy buckets and crashing the boards.

The Eagles had only five offensive rebounds over the course of the entire game.

"We just wanted to attack them and create situations where we were forcing other guys to help and the defense to move," Nelson said.

This assertive mentality on offense showed not only in the manner in which the Blue Devils scored-I can't recall a game in which Duke has dunked more over an opponent-but also in who did the scoring. Four out of the five starters-McRoberts, Nelson, Greg Paulus and Jon Scheyer-reached double-figures for the night.

Despite the numerous alley-oops to McRoberts and the impressive 65-41 Blue Devil lead with 12:47 left in the second period, watching the game (again, on TV in The Chronicle's office in 301 Flowers), I had the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that somehow, Duke was going to find a way to let the Eagles back into the game and lose it.

If the previous four games were any indication, it's not like the "they're-going-to-start-stalling-on-offense-and implode" sentiments were completely unjustified.

With less than two minutes on the clock, Boston College had pulled within six points, after going on a 29-11 run. It was like Florida State, Virginia and North Carolina all over again.

But this time, the Blue Devils held on, and they didn't need a desperation shot to do it.

Instead, the game ended the way it started. Gerald Henderson hit a layup in transition to extend the Duke lead to eight with 34 seconds left, and Paulus grabbed two defensive boards on consecutive Boston College misses to close out the win.

"It's all about executing and winning down the stretch," Nelson said. "And today we did that-we made those plays."

Originally, I thought that I couldn't have been more disappointed than I was when I saw that screen informing me that my flight to Boston had been cancelled.

But then I imagined myself stranded in Logan Airport with a copy of the Boston Herald and the front-page headline of the sports section reading that the Blue Devils' trip to the NCAA Tournament was in danger of being cancelled.

In the end, it was more important that Duke came out to play, not that some college reporter came out to write.


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