WASHINGTON, D.C. - With the memories from last year's Tournament opener and Eric Maynor's season-ending dagger still fresh, Gerald Henderson couldn't stand to go through the same experience again.
A last-second shot to fall behind. Game over. Tournament over. Season over.
"Coming down to our last game, you don't want it to be you who messes up," Henderson said. "You're playing for everything in this potential last game. You've just got to lock in and play with everything you got."
Henderson elevated his game when his team most needed him, scoring Duke's final eight points and converting a scintillating coast-to-coast layup with 12 seconds remaining to edge Belmont and save the Blue Devils from a second consecutive first-round exit. Henderson scored 17 of his team-high 21 points in the second period and buoyed a Duke backcourt that only received two points from captain DeMarcus Nelson.
"Down the stretch we were primarily going to G, to have him initiate stuff for us, whether it would be the shot or his penetration," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "And G made one of our great plays of the year in going full-court like that. That was just a great move."
Krzyzewski told his team in its final timeout to push the ball quickly downcourt off of a miss or turnover to keep the Bruins off-balance defensively. When Henderson snagged a rebound with 16 seconds remaining, the sophomore wasn't initially thinking layup. But as he crossed midcourt and assessed his options, he made the decisive choice to take Duke's final possession into his own hands.
"I saw Greg, I saw Kyle, but nobody was really on me, so I just decided that I was going to take it in," Henderson said. "I saw the gap in the lane, right when I got to about the free-throw line and just took it in."
But the Blue Devils wouldn't even have been in position to sneak ahead had it not been for Henderson's elevated play on both ends of the floor during the second half. Feeling that his effort in the first half on the defensive end had not been sufficient, Henderson came out of the locker room at the break determined to turn it up a notch.
"Individually, I thought that I could play a lot better defense than I did," Henderson said. "I played better defense in the second half-that's what really got me going offensively in the second half."
And just as he made his presence felt on Duke's final offensive possession, Henderson played a crucial role in sealing the Blue Devils' win with his strong play on their final defensive possession.
Belmont sharpshooter Justin Hare hauled in a football-style inbounds pass at midcourt with 2.2 seconds left on the clock, but Henderson smothered Hare with tough defense and forced an errant last shot that finalized Duke's miraculous escape job.
"[Gerald] had a big-time second half for us, had a big-time finish," guard Greg Paulus said. "But the thing I liked about it is that he forced a tough shot the next possession.... He was big time."
Henderson's second-half activity on the glass-soaring above Belmont defenders to offensive and defensive rebounds alike-also set the pace for his late surge. On the very first possession of the period, Henderson snared a one-handed offensive rebound off of a DeMarcus Nelson miss and put it back up strong for two quick points. Although he only had one rebound in the first half, Henderson picked up six after the intermission.
With Thursday's nailbiter proving how decisive one player can be toward a game's final outcome, Henderson's teammates were just glad they had a gamechanger of their own as their Tournament run continues with a Saturday showdown against West Virginia.
"Gerald can definitely take over a game for us," forward Kyle Singler said. "He can do it without scoring the ball too, because he can rebound the ball and steal the ball. He can just make plays, and we need Gerald to make plays from here on out."
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