Hope and anxiety fill Duke's night

March, 11, 2011
3/11/11
11:25
PM ET

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Duke freshman Kyrie Irving started the evening by teasing the Duke fans inside Greensboro Coliseum when he went through some light shooting drills an hour before the game, testing out his injured right big toe.

But the night ended for Duke with the Blue Devils more concerned about another toe, one on the left foot of senior guard Nolan Smith, who jammed it on the sideline with six-plus minutes remaining in the game against Maryland.

Smith didn’t return, and his status remains in doubt for Saturday’s semifinal against Virginia Tech. Smith was to be evaluated into the night Friday by the Duke training staff. He was noticeably hobbling as he walked out to the team bus.

“I’m not sure of Nolan’s status,’’ Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We won’t know that probably until [Saturday morning]. He wasn’t able to come back into the ball game, so we’re concerned about that.’’

According to the staff, Smith wanted to come back into the game but it made no sense for the Blue Devils to let him do so. Duke started to pull away and ended up beating the offensively inept Terps for an 87-71 final.

Smith, who was named ACC Player of the Year earlier this week, was 2-of-11 against the Terps, missing all four 3-pointers he took and committing five turnovers in 31 minutes.

If he can’t play on Saturday, that puts even more pressure on guard Seth Curry to handle the ball rather than play off it as a wing.

“It would probably be like last year when I was running the second team and I was playing the point,’’ said Curry of his redshirt season after transferring from Liberty. “Hopefully, I can get some rest and be able to do it.’’

The Blue Devils seemed to rally around Smith’s absence, especially defensively.

“We came together as a team and we were using each other down the stretch,’’ Duke’s Andre Dawkins said. “We did a better job of using the whole team instead of just watching Nolan.’’

Curry finished with 11 points, but it was Kyle Singler who shined, as he scored 29 in a sterling performance.

After the game, there didn’t seem to be any fear that Smith would be out long, but if there is a chance he needs to rest the toe, the Blue Devils will be more inclined to do that, rather than rush him onto the court and run the risk of not having him for next week’s NCAA tournament.

Meanwhile, Irving was just a tease, simply working out to get a sweat. Irving was wearing game shorts, shoes and undershirt when he worked out prior to the game. But he returned in his casual attire for the tip. Irving hasn’t played since Dec. 4, when he injured his right big toe against Butler and frayed a ligament underneath his foot.

“He’s just going through the next phase of his rehabilitation,’’ Krzyzewski said of Irving. “He’s progressing very well. Because we’re in this tournament atmosphere, to get him on the court, do exercise, get some shooting in. There’s no timetable on him, though. He’s not going to magically appear [Saturday] or anything like that because he hasn’t done anything with the team. But it’s coming along great, so we just want to take advantage of the fact that we’re in a gym and crowd and whatever, and that keeps his spirits up, too.’’

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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