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Atsur's presence proves key in loss

TAMPA, Fla. - With about 10 minutes to go during pre-game warmups, N.C. State point guard Engin Atsur calmly stroked three-pointer after three-pointer on the basket in front of the Blue Devils bench.

At the same time, Duke freshman Gerald Henderson calmly took his seat directly behind that same bench in the first row of the Blue Devils' family and friends section.

Even though the game had yet to begin, the picture best captured the story of Duke's loss. Throughout the game, Henderson's absense and the presence of Atsur, who sat out Duke's Jan. 20 blowout victory of N.C. State in Raleigh with an injury, proved critical.

"[Henderson] gives them the athleticism, he gives them rebounds, he gives them another guy that can score the ball and defend," N.C. State head coach Sidney Lowe said. "Any time you miss a player like that it's going to affect your ball club, as we did when we didn't have [Atsur] the first game we played them."

With so much focus on the fairness of his one-game penalty, Henderson's emergence on the court in recent games has been overlooked. Even though he had not led Duke in scoring, the freshman was Duke's most effective offensive option in the team's losses to Maryland and North Carolina, putting up career-highs in both contests.

Without Henderson's ability to create off the bounce, the Blue Devils relied heavily on their outside shooting in the first half. Marty Pocius played the game of his college career stepping into Henderson's role, but even his two three-point plays in the final minutes of regulation and overtime were not enough for Duke.

Where head coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke missed Henderson the most was on defense. With Josh McRoberts in foul trouble and Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek on the bench for their ineffective play, Krzyzewski was forced to play a smaller lineup for most of the second half. When DeMarcus Nelson and Dave McClure got in foul trouble trying to defend the inside tandem of Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley, Duke had nowhere to turn.

"We definitely missed him out there on the court," Nelson said. "[N.C. State] created some mis-match problems, and we had a really tough time defending them."

More obvious than Henderson's presence as a spectator, however, was Atsur's as a contributor on the court-particularly in the second half.

Atsur scored eight points, including two threes in the frame's first three minutes. He finished with 21 on the game and was able to stretch the defense and prevent Duke from double-teaming inside.

When N.C. State needed a bucket, it turned to its senior leader. With the score tied and 5:29 to go, Atsur cut to the lane, eceived a pass and finished an acrobatic and improbable scoop layup to give his team the lead. Trailing 68-67 with less than two minutes in regulation, Atsur hit a long three to all but assure the Wolfpack of at least sending the game into overtime.

"He hit huge shots for them," Krzyzewski said. "Big-time kids, not just big-time players, they do those things. And Engin did that. He played like a real senior."


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