Blue Devils lean on more than just stars

Published March 12, 2006

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Don't be fooled into thinking that the Duke Blue Devils are J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams and a few other kids in white and blue jerseys.

Redick and Williams are All-Americans and usually play like it.

But freshman point guard Greg Paulus and freshman forward Josh McRoberts can play a bit, too, and clearly made that point in a 78-66 win against Wake Forest in the ACC tournament semifinals Saturday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum.

"It's not like those other guys are plumbers, not that I have anything against plumbers," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser deadpanned. "Those guys are really good."

No fooling.

Paulus scored a career-high 18 to go with seven rebounds and five assists with one turnover, and McRoberts added 13 points, a team-high eight rebounds and two assists.

Redick, though he banged his right knee and left for several minutes in the first half, had 20 points. Williams, limited to a handful of minutes in the first half by foul trouble, finished with 12 points.

The top-seeded and No. 3-ranked Blue Devils (29-3) head to their ninth consecutive ACC final today against league newcomer Boston College, looking for their eighth title in that time. With a win, they also could regain the top spot in the polls and the No. 1 spot overall for the NCAA Tournament.

"Greg just played like a veteran point guard today," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "His play and Josh's play really sparked us. To have two freshmen step up like that was big. We're very excited about the win and the manner in which we accomplished it."

In a span of 54 seconds almost midway through the first half, things didn't look so good for Duke against the No. 12 seed Demon Deacons (17-16), who were trying to become the lowest seeded-team to reach any conference tournament finale.

First, Redick bumped knees with Wake guard Trent Strickland, who was trying to drive toward the basket.

"Normally, when that type of thing happens, it's painful at first, you kind of hobble off but then it goes away," Redick said.

He returned wearing an elastic brace and said the knee didn't bother him the rest of the game. Once back at courtside, Redick saw Williams on the bench, having picked up his second foul seconds after his collision.

The Blue Devils still opened a 31-21 lead before Wake senior guard Justin Gray hit three straight 3-pointers to ignite a 15-3 run and give his team a 36-34 halftime lead.

"Our kids at halftime really took it up a notch," Krzyzewski said. "Our defense was excellent today and we really valued the ball."

The Blue Devils committed five turnovers, one in the second half. They were also remarkably efficient on offense when it mattered most, scoring on 11 of their final 13 possessions to pull away. A lot of that began with Paulus and McRoberts.

"Coach gave me a lot of confidence, told me to be aggressive and so did the other guys on the team," Paulus said. "And when everyone chipped in and started making some shots, our confidence level rose."

Plumbers? Hardly.