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December 2, 2006The anxiety inside Cameron Indoor Stadium was impossible not to notice in the first half of Saturday night's 61-52 win over Georgetown.
After a pair of DeMarcus Nelson three pointers in the game's first minute, Duke's offense went flat for most of the rest of the first half.
Turnovers and missed shots were a continuation of the sluggish offensive effort Duke gave in a tight win over Indiana Tuesday night.
And as Georgetown executed on the offensive end to build a lead that reached as many as nine points, Duke seemed out of answers on both ends of the court.
But a second half rally changed all of that, and best news of all for Duke, the charge to victory was led by sophomore captains Greg Paulus and Josh McRoberts.
Both players have already endured their fair share of criticism early in the season, but they took enormous strides to silence the critics with a sterling second half effort against the Hoyas.
Trailing 34-27 to start the second half, the Blue Devils made a couple of runs at the Hoyas but struggled to get over the crest of the hill.
McRoberts opened second half scoring with consecutive baskets to cut the lead to four points, using both his right and left hands to draw the Blue Devils closer.
Paulus got in the act with a baseline jumper a minute later when he took a cross court pass from McRoberts, who was credited with the assist.
That foreshadowed things to come, and it came to a climax as the clock ticked under five minutes to go in a tie game.
Moments after a pair of Paulus free throws knotted the score at 49-49, Georgetown's Roy Hibbert misfired with a shot.
Duke's David McClure snared the rebound and whipped a pass to Paulus, who was in the clear on the left side of the floor and outsprinted the Hoyas' pursuit to lay the ball off the glass for a 51-49 lead.
On the very next Duke possession, after a free throw by Hibbert made it a 51-50 game, Paulus made another big play in the halfcourt, slithering his way into the lane and scoring on a driving layup to bring the crowd to fever pitch.
McRoberts finished the game with 15 points and was 6-of-7 from the foul line, but his impact on the game was far more reaching than just the scoring column.
He blocked three shots, including a shot in the lane by Georgetown's Jonathan Wallace in the closing minutes while Duke held on to a four point margin.
Duke's sophomore forward handed out six assists as well, both from the perimeter as a ball handler and on the inside near the basket.
Duke's second half comeback might not have been possible were it not for a first half spark from Martynas Pocius.
Searching for a burst of energy and any kind of offensive spark, Mike Krzyzewski turned to Pocius, and the sophomore Lithuanian delivered with a pair of big three pointers that helped get Duke out of its offensive funk.
Even with an improved offensive effort in the second half, it was once again the defense that took the spotlight.
Georgetown scored just six field goals and mustered only 18 points in the second half as Duke turned up the heat both on the perimeter and in the paint.
The Blue Devils varied their pickup points and employed aggressive double teams on the ball against Georgetown's ball screens.
The strategy helped push the Hoyas away from the basket and made their passes longer, which helped the Blue Devils crowd passing lanes and disrupt the flow of the Princeton style offense.
Hoya guard Jessie Sapp led Georgetown with 13 points, while Hibbert scored 11 to go along with three blocks.
It was a win that Duke had to grind out, but this one had a different feel than Tuesday's win over Indiana.
As the seconds ticked off the clock, Krzyzewski couldn't contain his emotion on the sideline, pumping his arms enthusiastically to the crowd after Duke outscored Georgetown 34-18 in the second half.
With Paulus and McRoberts showing signs of more consistent play, in addition to the steady performances turned in by Nelson this season, the crowd responded to the coach with similar enthusiasm, as the anxiety of the first half was nowhere in sight.