Opinion: Depth charge sinks Blue Devils
By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on January 28, 2005 1:56 PM
DURHAM - The Duke men's basketball team seemed two games away from its toughest stretch of the season -- facing Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and North Carolina within one week starting on Feb. 2.
Wednesday night, an inconsistent Maryland team with far less midseason hype proved they were plenty capable of exposing the Blue Devils' weakness -- namely depth.
The Terps had seven players with 19 or more minutes, while the formerly unbeaten Devils played all five starters more than 27 minutes each with Shelden Williams, J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing combining for just three minutes on the bench.
It's no mystery that this isn't a deep Duke team. Coach Mike Krzyzewski will be the first to admit it.
"We're not this deep team," he said. "Our big three got a lot of shots and touches tonight, but we need them to perform at a high level. If that doesn't happen, we don't have a chance."
Still, the big three combination of Williams, Redick and Ewing were enough to keep Duke undefeated through 15 games -- a feat only two other teams could boast of in Division I.
Despite not reaching the toughest part of their schedule, the Devils were 5-0 in the ACC with a 3-0 road mark. All signs pointed for Duke to at least make it to the end of the month unblemished. Besides, the Terps, the defending conference tournament champions, came into the game 0-3 on the road overall.
Maryland's upset had a lot to do with gritty defensive play up top by John Gilchrist and Chris McCray, who always had a hand in the face of Redick and Ewing when they fired from long range.
"I thought we could be a good defensive team, and tonight we were," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "A lot of folks around College Park have written us off. We needed to win a game against a quality opponent to have some credibility."
Redick got his usual 20 and Williams notched 18 inside, while Ewing finished with just nine. But the trio combined to shoot just 16 of 48 from the field, a sub-par 33 percent.
This Devil team, despite posting the school's best start since 1985-86, doesn't have that much room for error.
"We missed opportunities on some breakaways and got the ball inside and came up empty," Krzyzewski said. "We didn't have the intensity we have had all year. This team has to have an edge, and we didn't have that tonight."
Defensively, the Duke guards didn't seem to tire with the minutes, but the wings and post were a different story. Versatile, 6-foot-8 junior Nik Caner-Medley proved to be a headache all over the floor for Lee Melchionni and reserve David McClure.
Caner-Medley, the ACC's sixth-leading scorer, pumped in 25 points, including a deep, 3-pointer near the eight-minute mark of the second half that answered a 3 by Redick. The long bomb pulled Maryland to within one at 58-57.
Two minutes later, Caner-Medley, who added five rebounds, three assists and four steals, dished out an assist to Chris McCray that gave Maryland the lead for the first time since intermission. The Devils forced one more tie with nearly 1:30 left, but Terp forwards Ekene Ibekwe and Travis Garrison carried the load from there -- combining to shoot 9 of 10 from the stripe in the final minute.
Ibekwe, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, came into the game averaging just 8.5 points per game. He finished with 15 and nine rebounds. Williams got his rebounds again, with nine, but he didn't have a whole lot of help under the glass. Shavlik Randolph added six boards and a big put back late in the game, but only managed to play 14 minutes.
The ACC may be a guard-dominant league this season, but someone else has to step up underneath for the Devils.
Sure, this could easily be filed as one of those games where Maryland had something to prove and Duke has already proven plenty. The Devils still own a share of the conference lead and shouldn't be too far from the top all season -- despite their depth issues.
Krzyzewski has had some memorable coaching moments. This could go down as one of his best ever if Duke finds a way to play through its lack of depth and cut down any nets this season.
(Gabe Whisnant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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