INDIANAPOLIS — At 3 p.m. Saturday, a full six hours before Duke was set to tip off in the Final Four, its student section began filling in rapidly, occupying every available space and crevice in its assigned spot under the cavernous dome of Lucas Oil Stadium. Across the arena, West Virginia’s began to do the same.
A lone security guard, surveying the scene, remarked, “Looks like the battle’s already started.”
Instead of a war, though, the fans saw a rout. Buoyed by a combined 63 points from Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, Duke trounced West Virginia Saturday in the national semifinal game. It was a statement game, as Smith admitted later, and it erased the memories of 2008’s loss against West Virginia in a definitive fashion.
“We wanted to win. We didn’t care who we played,” senior forward Lance Thomas said. “It was good to beat them, because they beat us two years ago. But I just feel like we were the hungrier team.”
Duke’s revenge over the Mountaineers was equally sweet when considering the full circle the Blue Devils took between the two games. West Virginia point guard Joe Mazzulla, who mockingly slapped the floor during pregame warmups in 2008 and finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, only scored four points and had two turnovers Saturday.
He didn’t even get to finish the game while wearing his own jersey, tearing his original in the first half and being forced to play out the contest with borrowed threads.
“It's a completely different team [now] with a different mentality,” said senior Brian Zoubek, who finished with six points and 10 rebounds. “We have confidence in what we're doing [and] we believe in it. We believe we're good enough to deserve to win.”
West Virginia’s performance on the offensive glass, the hallmark of its 2008 win, was not nearly as pronounced Saturday. The two teams tied with 11 offensive rebounds, and Duke edged the Mountaineers in total rebounds, 29 to 27. The Blue Devils also outscored West Virginia in second-chance points by 12.
The players agreed afterwards, though, that their rebounding performance against the Mountaineers couldn’t be adequately explained by statistics alone.
“I was surprised when we saw the stats and it said we were only up two rebounds,” Zoubek said. “It felt like a lot more. We were being really aggressive on the boards…. We really limited their second shots.”
For the first time in the Tournament, all members of the “Big Three” scored over 15 points.
“It’s like a plus, especially if all three of the guys are doing it,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Usually two of them give you points… but today, with all three of them, they worked so well together today. They really were good tonight.”
Singler’s performance for Duke was especially promising. Coming off the first game of his college career in which he didn’t hit a field goal, the junior shot 8-for-16 from the floor for 21 points while grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out five assists.
“Kyle had one bad game,” Thomas said. “You’re not going to hold that against him. He plays the hardest of anyone. Seeing him hit shots didn’t surprise me. Now he has confidence in his game and has momentum going into the championship.”
West Virginia, which has become known this year for its swarming 1-3-1 zone, came out from the beginning in the man-to-man.
Its interior defense suffered as a result. Duke started the game by pounding the ball down low, finding Zoubek for two quick, easy scores and Singler for several smooth baskets in the paint.
“We just wanted to come out and play with confidence,” Singler said. “I thought we did a great job of playing with confidence and just playing freely.”
The Mountaineers tried in vain to confuse the Blue Devils by switching to the 1-3-1 late in the first half. But Duke wasn’t fooled, and Singler and Smith hit back-to-back 3-pointers, giving the team its first double-digit lead of the day.
The deluge continued from there, with the Blue Devils extending their lead as far as 21 at the final buzzer.
On this night, it would’ve taken an army to stop Duke.
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