01/20/06 — Opinion - Patrolling the paint

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Opinion - Patrolling the paint

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on January 20, 2006 2:11 PM

I've got to admit, as a former guard in my backyard hoops playing days, I'm partial to the individuals and teams that can dribble, pass and shoot it from long range.

There was a guy on the floor at Duke on Wednesday who can do all of the all of the above pretty well (especially the latter). You've probably heard of him ... J.J. Redick.

Usually, N.C. State also thrives on their ability to distribute the ball and knock down 3-pointers as the Wolfpack had averaged 14 makes from 3-point range over their last three games. With Duke keying on that aspect, however, State finished just 2-of-11 from downtown.

I'm not going to say my basketball tastes have changed. It's hard to undo someone who grew up watching Muggsy Bogues, Kenny Smith, Chris Corchiani and Bobby Hurley, among others, dish it out on Tobacco Road.

But, I certainly left Cameron Indoor Stadium with increased respect for the big men that roam the painted area as Duke senior Shelden Williams and State sophomore Cedric Simmons put on a clinic on how to play in the low blocks.

Much like a heavyweight fight, the younger Simmons (6-9, 233) came out of the gate fast and simply, dominant. Taking feeds from his teammates and using improving post moves, Simmons scored State's first eight points, had one steal and added one block of a shot by Williams (6-9, 250) as the Pack took an 8-7 early lead.

State led 34-33 at the break, handing Duke only its second halftime deficit this year, and the play of the sophomore from Supply was key. Uncharacteristically but effectively, the Pack scored 30 of their 34 inside the paint with Simmons scoring 13 on six-of-eight shooting with five rebounds -- including three on the offensive glass. On top of that, the West Brunswick product swatted a whopping six shots before intermission.

"Cedric continues to get better every night out. Duke's game plan (stopping the outside shot) defensively made it important to go into him," N.C. State coach Herb Sendek said. "Our guys did a good job of doing that, and Cedric played a big game for us."

Like a seasoned veteran, Williams saved most of his counter-punches for the second half. The senior came out after the break with four quick points and after shooting 3-of-7 from the field in the first half, finished 5-of-6 in the second on his way to a 21-point effort.

More importantly, Williams "drew" an offensive foul guarding Simmons out high near the 2:40 mark with the Devils only in front 71-67. On a night where he set the all-time record for career blocks at Duke (384), Williams would add more rejection near the one-minute mark as he helped his team improve to 17-0 for only the second time in history with an 81-68 win.

"Shelden had a fabulous game. He broke Mike Gminski's record for blocks, and he was a force inside," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "His defensive play against Simmons at the end of the game was huge. That was one of the plays of the game."

Williams has been doing similar work the last years. His scoring average has consistently gone up since his freshman year, and he's averaged over eight rebounds since his sophomore season. He needs just two more blocks to join Tim Duncan and Ralph Sampson as the only ACC players to register 1,500 points, 1000 rebounds and 350 blocks in a career.

Impressive company.

Simmons more than proved last night, and through the first two months of the season for that matter, he's well on his way to making his own noise in the ACC. He came in averaging 12 points and nearly seven boards per game. On one of the biggest stages in his young career and against arguably the best center in the country, Simmons eclipsed those marks with a career-high 28 points and seven rebounds.

During preseason workouts, former State standout and recent graduate, Julius Hodge, was quoted as saying, "Ced's a beast!" I overheard several Cameron Crazies saying similar things on Wednesday, except they may have added some other words.

With no round robin play in the ACC, now a 12-team league, we aren't guaranteed to see these two true centers (a rare breed) go head-to-head again this year.

That's a shame.

But, the way Williams and Simmons are playing, a rematch between their two teams in March in Greensboro with much more on the line seems well within reason.