02/09/04 — Duhon's next play

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Duhon's next play

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on February 9, 2004 2:00 PM

The next play.

In order to be successful in any sport, a player and team has to be able to answer to a big play on the other end. This is especially true in the competitively balanced world of ACC basketball this season.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski calls Chris Duhon one of the best “next play” guys he has ever coached.

That’s saying a lot.

Duhon doesn’t possess the eyes in the back of his head like Bobby Hurley once did for the Blue Devils. He’s far less likely to light another team up for 30 points like Jay Williams could. His career-high is 23.

Those two players were leaders on national championship teams. Duhon got a title when he was a freshman role player on a Duke team loaded with offensive talent in 2001.

Now, he’s helping put Duke (20-1, 9-0 ACC) in the position to win the big prize with his own, headstrong point play and gritty front court defense.

Going into his latest “next play,” Duhon wasn’t having a great game at North Carolina last Thursday. A lot of the game he was matched up against arguably the ACC’s best talent in Rashad McCants and got into foul trouble.

He had more turnovers (3) than points (2) in the first half.

His play got better in the second half and overtime but never to the point where you could tell he was in complete control of the game on the court. Still, Duhon is the kind of player who can be off of his game, but still provide strong, senior leadership.

“It’s something he’s shown all year. You don’t always see it on a play he does but something he says to somebody. We were rewarded by him being able to do all of that. Duhon’s play at the end will go down as one of the great plays ever. In those situations we try not to call time out.”

When he took the inbounds pass that eventually led to the game-winning, reverse layup, it was like he was an extension of his coach on the floor. He knew Coach K didn’t want a timeout. He took what the defense gave him — a clear left side of the court and eventually a lane to the basket and an 83-81 win.

Krzyzewski isn’t sure if he would have been able to come up with that play last season as a junior, especially after picking up his second foul right before the end of the half, which pulled the Tar Heels to within five going into halftime.

“He was down at halftime, because he made a bad play to end the half. Not because we ran a bad defensive set, but he got his second foul,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m not sure last year he would have got completely over it, and this year he’s able to get over it right away.”

Being number one in the country certainly has a way of giving a team confidence. For Duke, it exudes from their quarterback at the point.

“We just feel like we are going to win every game in every situation. This team is very close and we all believe in each other,” Duhon said. “We all know we can make big plays. We just show our heart.”

Not that it’s a fore-gone conclusion the Devils will run the table in the ACC or win the conference tournament. There are too many good teams in the league this year to make that assumption.

What is starting to shape up is that only one team, N.C. State (7-2 ACC), has even a chance of winning the league besides Duke at this point as the Devils plays four of their final seven conference games at rawkus Cameron Indoor Stadium.

To be able to say that midway through is a surprise and an impressive accomplishment.

And, we all know how dangerous they’ve been in conference tournament play recently — winners of five straight.

This Duke team may not have the same dynamics as past national title winners, but they seem to have a familiar personifaction running the show.