Yesterday, in a game where oddsmakers tabbed the hometown Duke Blue Devils as twenty-plus point favorites, Rhode Island led fifth ranked Duke for thirty-seven of forty minutes before falling at Cameron Indoor Stadium - their fate not sealed until a desperation heave by Jimmy Baron missed wide right.
“The last five minutes, I thought we did everything right,” Krzyzewski remarked. “They didn’t do anything wrong, they just missed a couple of shots.”
In the end, it was those perfect five minutes from Duke that subdued the stubborn Rams in a game which required every ounce of energy the Cameron Crazies possessed to help will their team to victory.
From the very beginning, it was evident that the Rams didn’t show up in Durham intimidated. Importantly, young Ram guards Marquis Jones and Stevie Mejia held their own in a hostile environment against the Duke pressure, an early key to Rhode Island’s ability to compete with the Devils.
While Rhode Island showed tremendous poise as a unit, Delroy James (21 points, 8 rebounds) carried them throughout the first half, where they built a lead as high as twelve points (34-22). The Rams continually frustrated the Blue Devils with their length and limited the Devils to one shot opportunity on nearly every possession.
Offensively, James (9-12 field goals for the game) attacked the Duke forwards off the dribble. He got to the rim, pulled up for an assortment of mid-range jumpers, and connected on his only three point attempt.
“James really got them started off,” said Krzyzewski. In the first half, he really wore us out. At the end of clocks… we’d just rush and do something at the end of the clock… and they’d take advantage of it. A big part of it was James’ ability to break you down from the four spot.”
Duke’s Gerald Henderson agreed.
“I played against him in high school… a lot of AAU… He played a heck of a game. He hit some tough shots. I thought we played some pretty good defense on him. He’s a heck of a player.”
At the 3:33 mark of the first half, Rhode Island owned a 34-22 advantage. But Duke charged back, orchestrating an 11-0 run behind Scheyer (23 points, 13-13 from the free-throw line) and Singler (21 points, 5 rebounds), to close within one at the break.
While it was the Rams inspired team play, paced by James, which carried them in their solid first half effort; the offensive firepower in the second frame came courtesy of senior guard Jimmy Baron Jr.
Baron continually wowed the Cameron faithful, authoring a spectacular shooting display in which he connected on seven of eight three-point attempts during the final twenty minutes, many with Duke defenders draped all over him.
For the game, Baron tallied 24 points on eight of ten shooting from beyond the arc. Using screen after screen and creating for himself with dribble penetration as well, he shouldered the load for the Rams, helping them maintain a slight cushion of between three and seven points through the early and middle portion of half-two.
“Baron had one of the great halves of any kid here… that’s played here, said Coach K. And it’s not like we didn’t guard him.”
Despite Baron’s shooting, Singler was able to respond with a crucial three-pointer of his own at the 11:22 mark, cutting a seven point Rhode Island lead to just four at 59-55.
Down the stretch, Singler and Scheyer went to work with dribble penetration.
Attacking early in the shot clock most every trip, the two were able to finish in traffic and, when unable to finish, draw contact and earn trips to the line.
True to form, Duke was excellent from the stripe, converting thirteen of sixteen attempts in the second half and twenty-eight of thirty-two for the game.
Despite Baron’s heroics, as the clock wound down Duke was determined not to see their sixty-one game home, non-conference winning streak come to an end. The Devils dug down deep after the final Baron bomb put the road Rams ahead 77-72, and stopped the Rams from scoring on two successive possessions.
After two free throws by Scheyer and four points from Singler, including an acrobatic layup, Duke assumed a tenuous 78-77 lead.
Delroy James would be fouled on the ensuing possession with just thirty-three seconds remaining and make two free throws to give the Rams a one-point advantage.
Singler would once again weave through the Rhode Island defense, drawing contact and a foul call on James with nineteen ticks remaining. The 6-8 sophomore calmly sank two free-throws and Duke led 80-79.
Rhode Island would call Baron’s number a final time.
The 6-2 guard raced down the court and drove hard to his left, pulling up for jumpshot over the outstretched hand of Singler. The shot missed short, ultimately bouncing off the leg of Lamonte Ulmer and out of bounds.
“We wanted to get it to Jimmy. He was hot and they ended up putting a 6-8 kid (Singler) on him… he got a great look,” said Coach Jim Baron.
Two free throws by Jon Scheyer with 3.7 seconds left set the stage for Baron’s last second heave, which was off the mark giving Duke the hard-fought victory, 82-79.
“There was some really good stuff happening out there in case you didn’t watch,” said Krzyzewski.
For Rhode Island, a difficult defeat but one that unquestionably earned respect from the top-five program residing in Durham.
“We did not look ahead, said Krzyzewski. Our guys were ready to play. I’m not down on our team or whatever. That team played great. If we looked bad, it was because of how well they played, not how poorly we played.”