Duke defense shuts down Deacs

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 19, 2007

By Aaron Beard

Associated Press

DURHAM — Duke isn’t the high-scoring machine it’s been in recent years. The way the Blue Devils are playing defense, they can get away with less offense.

Greg Paulus scored 17 points while the 14th-ranked Blue Devils held Wake Forest to one of its worst scoring games in a half-century in a 62-40 win Thursday.

The Blue Devils (15-3, 2-2 ACC) shut down the Demon Deacons, hounding freshman point guard Ishmael Smith on the perimeter and completely disrupting their transition attack. By the time it was over, Wake Forest had matched its second-lowest scoring total since the ACC’s inaugural season in 1953-54.

Even demanding coach Mike Krzyzewski could find little fault. Making it even sweeter was how his young team ignored its ups and downs on the offensive end along the way.

“Our defense was excellent,” Krzyzewski said. “It was rock solid. … That’s a really good sign for a team, that you don’t let missed shots let you miss assignments on the defensive end.”

The Blue Devils came in as the league’s best scoring defense at 56.1 points per game, though that number is skewed by their slower-paced offense that ranks last in the ACC.

However, Duke entered the game ranked second in the league by holding opponents to 39 percent shooting and first by holding teams to 27 percent from behind the 3-point arc. The scoring average was on pace to rank best in school history, while the shooting marks would rank among the best in Coach K’s 27 years here.

On Thursday, the Blue Devils held the Demon Deacons (9-8, 1-4) to 33 percent from the field and 3-for-11 from 3-point range with 21 turnovers and just five assists. That was more than enough to offset an offense that shot 44 percent and went nearly six minutes without a point in the second half.

“There’s no plays off,” said David McClure, who finished with seven points, six rebounds and three steals off the bench. “Especially in a conference like the ACC, teams are so talented that any little burst can give them a run and can force a 10-point swing.”

Wake Forest’s previous low was 58 points in a loss to Air Force in November. Meanwhile, Smith — the ACC’s assist leader at 6.3 per game — finished with no assists and eight turnovers while being taunted all night.

“Their pressure defense is probably the best we’ve faced so far,” said Kyle Visser, who was the only Demon Deacon in double figures with 12 points. “They get up in our guards and take away any kind of pass.”

The Blue Devils got better play from Paulus, who had 14 first-half points — including four 3-pointers — to help them build a 35-21 halftime lead.

Paulus’ play was a welcome sign after a recent woeful stretch. He went scoreless with one assist and six turnovers in the overtime home loss to Virginia Tech, and he had six points and three assists off the bench in a loss to Georgia Tech.

He bounced back with 15 points in the weekend win at Miami and followed that with a one-turnover day against Wake Forest.

“It didn’t change anything,” Paulus said of his benching against the Yellow Jackets. “My mindset is still going to be the same, whether I’m coming off the bench or whether I’m starting.”

He didn’t get a lot of scoring help from his teammates, who had trouble knocking down shots much of the night. Duke missed 14 of 19 attempts to open the second half, but Wake Forest was unable to cut the lead below double figures.

Eventually, the Blue Devils pushed the lead to 55-35 on a dunk by Josh McRoberts with three minutes left, and Paulus hit his final 3 to make it 62-38 in the final minute.

“I think he’s definitely playing with more confidence,” said McRoberts, who had 11points, eight rebounds, six assists and three blocks. “Some of the shots you’ve seen him take tonight were shots he probably wouldn’t have taken earlier in the year.”

The Demon Deacons have lost the past 10 games at Duke by double figures dating to their last win, which came during Tim Duncan’s senior season in 1997.

“I don’t think we are very confident,” coach Skip Prosser said. “We haven’t given ourselves reason to be very confident.”