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December 19, 2006

McRoberts leads Duke past Kent State

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DURHAM, N.C. -Josh McRoberts has always had the all-around talent to become a dominant player for Duke. Against Kent State, McRoberts showed the indomitable will to match.

The 6-foot-10 sophomore scored 11 of his career-high 19 points in the second half and sparked the decisive spurt to help the sixth-ranked Blue Devils rally past the Golden Flashes 79-72 on Tuesday night.

That allowed Duke to extend the nation's longest nonconference home winning streak to 49 games.

McRoberts had a career-high six blocks, six rebounds, four assists and four steals for the Blue Devils (10-1), making him the first player in school history to tally at least four in all five categories. And whether it was scoring inside or grabbing rebounds and leading the break, McRoberts was the riddle the Golden Flashes (5-4) just couldn't solve.

"He put us on his back," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

McRoberts' play was the kind of performance Duke fans have been hoping for from the preseason all-conference pick, though he has seemed content to play unselfishly within the flow of the offense. He came in averaging 11 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists, and had failed to reach double figures in scoring in five games this season.

"I can't worry about trying to get stats," McRoberts said. "That's never been the way I played.

"I think people get disappointed when I don't do more of one thing or another, but I'm comfortable with how I play no matter what people say about it. As long as we can win and I can make the best play for my team.''

DeMarcus Nelson added 18 points for the Blue Devils, freshman Jon Scheyer added 17 points and point guard Greg Paulus had 12 points and five assists in one of his best performances this season.

The Blue Devils needed all of it against determined Kent State and Omni Smith, who scored a career-high 33 points on 14-for-20 shooting.

``It's just whatever we needed, whether it was a defensive rebound or an extra pass to get a shot,'' said Paulus, who had a key strip of Smith on a fast break in the final 90 seconds. ``Everybody made a different play and they were winning plays.''

With the score tied at 57, McRoberts put Duke ahead to stay with a hook in the lane over Haminn Quaintance at the 8-minute mark. He followed that by rebounding a missed jumper from Mike Scott and taking it the length of the court to draw a foul and hit a free throw.

Then, after connecting on another hook over Quaintance, he leaped for a high alley-oop pass from Nelson and tipped it in with his right hand for a 67-57 lead with five minutes left. He also had a three-point play coming out of a timeout after Kent State had pulled within 67-61 about a minute later.

``We play in the (Mid-American Conference). We don't see guys like that,'' Kent State coach Jim Christian said. ``He's an all-American and he played like it.''

Of all the plays during that decisive stretch, Krzyzewski called McRoberts' baseline-to-baseline drive and foul shot ``the play of the game.''

``You could see it change the faces of our team and it also showed Kent State that we had a great will to win,'' he said. ``It just gave everybody a lot of excitement and after that he asserted himself even more. We went to him and he responded.''

Kent State managed one late push, cutting an 11-point lead to 72-67 and getting a steal that sent Smith on his way for what looked to be a layup. But Paulus managed to strip Smith on the way up, giving the ball back to Duke with a little over a minute left.

The Blue Devils helped themselves at the free throw line, hitting 23 of 32 compared to a 6-for-11 performance by Kent State. Still, Duke had trouble defending Kent State all game, allowing the Golden Flashes to shoot 51 percent.

At one point, Krzyzewski called a first-half timeout after Smith knocked down a wide-open 3-pointer and screamed at his team through the stoppage.

``I'm passionate about playing defense and that's what I require my team to do,'' the coach said. ``And when they do not do that, then we are not the Duke basketball program. ... I was so angry at our team. You cannot give an open look. There has to be an amazing sense of urgency. It's like you're going to die. Basically your defense is dying when you give up open looks and that's how we've been here, and we weren't that way for about 30 minutes.''

Quaintance added 10 points, 10 assists and six rebounds for the Golden Flashes.

``I don't view it as a moral victory,'' Christian said, ``but I think there are things from this game we can take and build on.''

For more coverage of the Duke Blue Devils, check out DevilsIllustrated.com.com.



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