5 + 5 +27 = 73 – 67.
How’s that for new math.
For Duke that equation is all too bitter as the Blue Devils faltered in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year losing to West Virginia 73-67.
The sword that Duke so gallantly used throughout the season ultimately turned on them in the end.
Duke entered the ’08 tournament twelfth in the nation making nine trifectas per game. Many a game the Blue Devils sent daggers through the air that pierced the spirit of their opponents – twelve versus Maryland and Miami, and thirteen against UNC to name a few.
The Duke faithful took comfort early in Saturday’s regional semi-final when Greg Paulus nailed two from behind the arc in the first five minutes. Surely visions of the junior point guard knocking down five against North Carolina State or six versus the Tar Heels had the fans thinking of another solid shooting performance from the Blue Devils.
Little did the denizens of Cameron know at the time that Paulus would not hit another from behind the arc until there was less than five minutes remaining in the contest.
It would prove a case of too little, too late.
In the end the Blue Devils would only convert five from long-range – four below their average.
The difference – twelve points – would have been more than enough to help Duke advance to the sweet sixteen.
But three-point percentage is not the only tale of the tape measuring Duke’s loss.
The Blue Devils attempted fifty shots Saturday. Nineteen of those shots actually graced the twine. Of the thirty-one failed attempts Duke managed a mere five offensive rebounds.
That is rather offensive.
In comparison West Virginia grabbed eighteen offensive rebounds. With those boards the Mountaineers took sixty-two total shots – twelve more than Duke. The shot differential was enough to lead West Virginia to their third trip to the sweet sixteen in the last four years.
Overall West Virginia out-rebounded Duke 45 – 27.
Whether it was a failure to follow shots, the lack of blocking out, or an inability to simply put two hands on the ball the Blue Devils came up short.
Symbolic of Duke’s futility was the showing by senior DeMarcus Nelson who managed six points one game after scoring a mere two points in Duke’s one-point opening round victory over fifteen seed Belmont.
West Virginia appeared to have Nelson perfectly scouted by taking away his ability to drive to the basket. Unable to get his shooting touch the senior looked more like a liability than a leader.
Unlike moments in the past when Duke seniors such as Chris Carrawell and Steve Wojciechowski left the floor in their final game realizing imminent defeat and embraced Coach K, Nelson walked by in dismay and took his spot on the bench.
Coach K and staff will convene and figure out where to go from here.
Here’s hoping they find the swords of years past.