It might be chalked up as a win, but Wednesday's 79-67 victory over Davidson didn't come easily for the Blue Devils, as they got a taste of the fight that Davidson became famous for last March.
With just 14 minutes left, No. 2 Duke (13-1) sat on close to its largest lead of the night, having buried the Wildcats (10-3) in what looked like an insurmountable 57-34 deficit.
A tremendous stretch for the Blue Devils to end the first half, which included a buzzer-beating tip-in by Brian Zoubek, was followed by a 12-2 run in the first four minutes after the break, and the Wildcats looked beaten.
But they weren't.
Davidson clawed back to within eight points by putting together a 21-6 run that started at the 11-minute mark with a dunk from Davidson star Stephen Curry that riled the mostly silent Wildcat fans in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"All was good in Krzyzewskiville," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "And then all of the sudden, the clouds came, and the wind, and it's eight points, and Lance [Thomas] is on the line. How the hell did that happen? It's a bad story-that story's going to end bad."
But the Blue Devils found a way to write the ending.
After going scoreless for four minutes, Duke finally got an opportunity to quell the Wildcat surge when Thomas, a 49 percent free throw shooter, was fouled and got to the line for a one-and-one.
Thomas, who finished with just five points and four rebounds, sank both, effectively sealing the victory for the Blue Devils.
"Those two free throws were huge. They were the biggest points of the game, and I told our team that afterwards," Krzyzewski said. "If he misses-it's a one-and one, too-it's eight points. They come down and hit a three, it's a different ball game. You can lose that game."
It was that Duke possession, ending in Thomas's free throws-a possession that lasted for more than a full minute-which proved to be the deciding stretch in the contest.
"We wanted to hit the offensive boards," Greg Paulus said. "It gives us more possessions, more shots, more flow, and also if we're that close, we can finish it."
And that's just what Duke did.
The Blue Devils secured two offensive rebounds off misses by Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson, and used a four corners offense to tick time off the clock before Thomas was fouled.
"It was hard fought," Thomas said. "They weren't going anywhere. Curry has a good supporting cast around him, guys who are ready to take big shots, guys who are ready when their number is called to hit big shots."
Perhaps the best player for the Wildcats, besides Curry, was their center, Andrew Lovedale. Lovedale, who recorded 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, demonstrated an ability to defend the basket and a knack for getting open in the paint, which contributed heavily to Davidson's late run.
But the Wildcats could never fully recover from their slow first half start and they suffered from the methodical pace that Duke mandated throughout the game. Davidson, led by Curry at the point, always looked slightly anxious to quicken the speed of play as the team finished with 15 fast break points, compared to just two for the Blue Devils.
That mindset was costly for the Wildcats early on in the contest, as sloppiness marred any chance to start hot. Davidson turned the ball over five times in the first six minutes.
Curry looked particularly stifled by Duke's stringent defense in half-court sets, as he was held to a mere eight points while losing the ball four times in the opening period.
Duke decided not to have a specific player shadow Curry, but chose instead to maintain its switch-defense, which calls for defenders to swap assignments with the flow of ball screens.
"If they create a mismatch where I'm guarded by a big guy, I usually try to take him off the dribble," said Curry, who finished with 29 points, eight rebounds, six assists and seven turnovers. "If I see a guy right behind him on the second line of defense, it's tough to create something. That's why they're really good if they can switch and take away the initial shot, and then when you drive, they're right there to help and make you make a tough decision. They did a great job of that."
The Blue Devils' scheme meant Curry saw six different defenders-sometimes in the form of a double team-in the first half.
"We wanted to make him work for everything," said Paulus, who finished with six points off the bench. "We knew he was going to take tough shots and make tough shots. That's what a great player does. So we wanted to make him work for it and try to chase him on screens and give a little bit of help there on the dribble."
NOTES: The win over Davidson was Duke's 22nd consecutive victory against the Southern Conference opponent. Krzyzewski is 22-1 against the Wildcats.... Junior Jon Scheyer recorded his 1,000th point as a Blue Devil in the contest, registering it on a free throw in the second half. He is the 57th player to do so at Duke.... Scheyer and Singler tied to lead the team in points at 22. It was the fourth game this season for Singler in which he has reached the 20-point mark.
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