Blue Devils Bully Virginia To Open ACC Slate

By Josh Herwitt - January 13, 2008


DURHAM, N.C. -- If there's anyone who realizes how important ACC openers are, it's DeMarcus Nelson.

After all, with the way Duke finished its non-conference slate at 12-1, the senior guard knew there was no time for his team to have a letdown.

So with Virginia and standout guard Sean Singletary coming into a packed house at Cameron Indoor Stadium Sunday night, Nelson made sure to make the most of his opportunity at both ends of the floor, knocking down eight of his 12 shots from the field to lead Duke with a game-high 20 points in a dominating 87-65 victory.

"It was very emotional," he remarked after the win. "There was a lot of energy in the building. It was the first ACC home game, and I think our crowd did a great job with that. Our crowd was tremendous tonight from start to finish and really gave us a big lift."

It was a lift that the Blue Devils certainly needed after closing out its non-conference schedule earlier this week in Philadelphia with a 74-64 victory over Temple, and one that Mike Krzyzewski certainly hopes to build on with games against Florida State and Clemson next week.

"I thought we didn't have one guy who didn't play hard and pretty well," the legendary Duke coach offered in his post-game press conference. "That's really the first game that that's happened. That's good to start the ACC that way. We know we've got a quick turnaround, but this is a really good start for us."

Because after the way Duke struggled in conference play last season at 8-8, the Blue Devils, who are 40-15 all-time in conference openers, really couldn't have started the second half of the season any better than it did tonight against the Cavaliers.

And with a boisterous crowd of 9,314 on hand, Duke managed to hold Virginia, the conference's leader in three-pointers made (9.69 per game), to just 4-of-14 from behind the arc while forcing its opponent to commit 19 turnovers.

"We played with a lot of energy and the crowd was great tonight," added Krzyzewski, who now sits just 12 victories away from college basketball's prestigious 800-win mark. "The students were unbelievable. It was like an old-fashioned Cameron game tonight. We hustled and shared the ball well. We played real well together and that was nice to see."

The Blue Devils, in the meantime, connected on 11 of their 31 three-point attempts, with three of them coming from Nelson, whose defensive effort against Singletary proved to be just as good as his offensive output.

"When you're guarding him your just have to try to make him take tough shots," Nelson explained. "He's really quick, he's really strong, he can get his shot off and he's really aggressive going to the basket with his right hand. You just have to know his tendencies."

"He's such a good guard, so you've got [to have] constant attention on him," Krzyzewski said of Singletary. "You just hope to hold him to a reasonable number [of points]."

That number for Singletary was 18, but the Philadelphia native didn't get much help from the rest of his team, which featured just two other double-digit scorers in Calvin Baker (13) and Mamadi Diane (11).

Yet with the Cavaliers also leading the nation in rebounding margin, Krzyzewski and his players understood how important it was to up their performance on the glass with sophomore center Brian Zoubek going down this week in practice (broken foot), and the Blue Devils made sure to carry that through in finishing with a 35-34 rebounding advantage.

"We lost today to a very good team," Virginia coach Dave Leitao confessed. "Usually as is the case--especially in this league and especially on the road--when you allow a good team to play to their strengths and you don't match it with the strengths that you may have then the outcome is quite obvious."

What was most obvious, though, in Duke's torching of Virginia was the defensive intensity that Coach K's kids brought to their first ACC game this season, and if that can continue over the next two months, there's no doubt that the Blue Devils can be in every game they play, no matter who steps on the court to face them.

"This is the way we need to play," asserted sophomore Gerald Henderson after finishing with 18 points in just 23 minutes.

"We're not going to play every game like we did tonight, but we're going to go out and try to."

Posted by Josh Herwitt at 10:14 PM on January 13, 2008
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