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Duke 70, San Jose State 51

By David Shaw

Salisbury Post

DURHAM — Here’s an appropriate New Year’s resolution for the Duke men’s basketball team: no more game’s like Sunday’s.

The fifth-ranked Blue Devils had to work harder than expected to get past visiting San Jose State — surviving a mistake-filled first half and turning a three-point second-half lead into a 70-51 victory.

“Obviously we didn’t play our best game,” said Josh McRoberts, the 6-foot-10 sophomore who scored 15 points and reeled in a career-high 17 rebounds. “The first half was disappointing for all of us. We have high standards here, and that wasn’t good enough.”

Halfway through, Duke (12-1) had already committed 10 turnovers and gone more than six minutes without scoring, forging a 34-26 lead. Junior DeMarcus Nelson believed the Devils’ holiday schedule played a role.

“We’ve played only once in the last 10 or 11 days,” he said. “That’s the thing about about Christmas break and taking a lot of days off. We still practiced hard, but you get your rhythm in the games.”

It was game-on for San Jose State, a 1-11 squad out of the WAC residing near the bottom of the national RPI rankings. The Spartans played like no one was watching, using a 3-pointer and a left-side bank shot by guard Carlton Spencer to draw within 36-33 with 18:08 remaining.

“We were focused on competing and staying in the game as long as could,” losing coach George Nessman said. “We hoped to extend them into the last 10 minutes — and then who knows? We just couldn’t quite do it.”

They couldn’t because they stirred a monster in the second half. McRoberts played like a man possessed, pumping a 3-pointer from the left corner through the net for a 40-33 lead, then backing in for a layup that made it

47-35 with 12:34 remaining. He finished 6-for-13 from the floor, added five assists and three blocked shots.

“I’m not one to think about my stats during the game,” said McRoberts. “I just try to do what I can away from the ball and make something happen when I get it.”

Teammate Greg Paulus said Duke, “made more connecting plays in the second half,” and added: “We always want to get the ball inside to Josh. Whether its score, pass or draw fouls, he’s such a weapon for us.”

Duke led by as many as 21 points — first when Nelson blew up the rim on a fastbreak dunk with seven minutes to go — then when reserve center Brian Zoubek (6 rebounds in 7 minutes) hit a layup with 1:04 on the clock.

When it was over, McRoberts realized the Devils — winners of eight straight games — were in an enviable position as the new year dawns.

“We’re in a pretty good place right now,” he said. “Right where we should be. It’s just not where we need to be.”

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski understands that kind of subtle frustration. “Frustration is a good thing,” he said. “It motivates me an my players to work harder. Record-wise, against the schedule we’ve faced, our team has been terrific. Not good, terrific.”

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NOTES: Nelson (13 points) and Paulus (12) gave the Devils three scorers in double figures. … McRoberts is averaged 15 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 4.0 blocks and 2.3 steals per game over his last three. … Duke will host Temple on Tuesday night, then launch its ACC season against visiting Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon.

San Jose State is halfway through a 6,460-mile road trip that sends it to Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State this week.

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Contact David Shaw at dshaw@salisburypost.com.

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