The difference tonight, at least as I saw it, was Duke’s ability to rotate defensively. Consequently, we disrupted Air Force’s usual long-range proficiency, and we were able to provide enough help defense to either stymie or annoy Air Force’s attempts at penetration and high-percentage shots. Yes, the Falcons beat us one too many times on backdoor cuts…but they didn’t beat us enough, nor did they punish us with their perimeter shooting enough, to make a difference.

Offensively, we were pristine in the first half. We were focused, we were efficient, we were penetrating and we were nailing shots from the perimeter.

And amazingly, we didn’t attempt a free throw until 16 minutes were left in the game. (The Heel fans ought to love that).

In the second half, Air Force picked up the defensive intensity, and our concentration and decision-making seemed to wane. It would have been hard to have been as good in the first half, but we shouldn’t have dropped off as much as we did.

But to be honest, what we saw in the second half is what I had anticipated we would play like for both halves.

So here’s a little breakdown, and I hope you will chime in with what you liked and disliked, too.

Likes:

> Nelson continues to shine in his leadership role. The season is young, but Nelson is rising early. He was as magnificent as he’s been in a Duke uniform since his stellar performance against UNC his freshman year. His defense is as stalwart as we’ve come to expect, but his offense has improved tremendously. He needs to keep it up.

And we’ll be saying this all year, but it’ll never get old: DeMarcus is a physical marvel. He worked his butt off over the summer, and it will pay more dividends in March than it will now.

> Scheyer’s making some great plays with the ball. I’d like to see him improve his off-ball maneuverings a little bit more–he should go to school on J.J.’s ability to set-up screens–but as Coach Dawkins has said many times, Scheyer is a very complete player at such a young age.

> McRoberts is our best passer. Hands down. He had what, four assists in the first 10 minutes?

> This may seem like a small point…but late in the second half, after Paulus had been fouled and toppled near midcourt, Lance Thomas darted over, nearly knocking down an Air Force player in the process, and hoisted Paulus off the ground. I love that stuff, particularly from a five-star freshman phenom who himself had a delicious performance tonight. Speaking of which…

> Lance Thomas showed some wonderful aggressiveness around the basket today. Almost too much, in fact. He had one drop-step move toward the basket in which he exploded near the rim, but had so much adrenaline into the play that he bounced the ball off the backboard. But Thomas snagged it right back and didn’t make the same mistake twice.

> McClure was similarly aggressive in the post today. He’s much stronger than he was two years ago, and it shows.

Which leads us into the dislikes:

> As JohnTDD pointed out in the game thread, McClure’s strong play today chipped away at Henderson’s minutes. I love the competition. They’ll push one another into being better players. That said, I’d hate to see either McClure or Henderson not contributing at all, because I think they both bring a lot to the table.

> Paulus continues to struggle with consistency. And they’re the same problems we saw for most of last year. Decision-making leading to bad passes (that cross-court pass with 3 minutes to go was inexcusable, among other mistakes); a travel here and there; still being unable to prevent perimeter penetration, etc., etc. I love watching Paulus play and I love his effort and energy, and I remain entrenched in the camp that Paulus is an invaluable member of the starting five and the prospect of this becoming a championship-caliber team…but Paulus has a long, long way to go. I trust he’ll get there, however. I have a lot of faith in someone that works as hard as Paulus does to get to where he needs to be.

And I guaran-damn-tee you there is no harsher critic on Paulus than himself. He is a perfectionist…and perhaps this is part of his problem. Perhaps he’s playing tight, resulting in his ill-considered passes and drives…

> Our press break was atrocious. We were picking up our dribble and failing to look opposite where our guys were receiving passes. Coach K saw it immediately and called a timeout…but the winner of Marquette-Texas Tech will have surely seen it, too.

> Our offense in the second half was just not up to par. I’ll leave the breakdown of that to the rest of you, because I’ve got to get to work on a presentation.

> McRoberts, as you all have noted–and as Vitale noted today in a glimpse of critical analysis–is not being forceful enough with the ball. And I agree with all of you who think he’s spending too much time away from the basket….he had one turnover late in the game as a result of him trying to drive into the lane from the three-point line. The ball ought not be in his hands on the perimeter when the game’s result is still in doubt…

> Our offense in the second half was just not up to par. I’ll leave the breakdown of that to the rest of you, because I’ve got to get to work on a presentation.

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