A closer look: Duke 82, Michigan 75

November, 22, 2011
11/22/11
9:56
PM ET
Overview: Terrifically entertaining game. Michigan looked like it needed to find its legs in the first half, but when the Wolverines got motoring, Duke couldn’t relax. Michigan kept coming and the Blue Devils kept holding the Wolverines at bay, each team making clutch shots down the stretch to make this a much closer game than the final score of 82-75 might indicate.

Turning point: The Blue Devils technically won this game in the first half, when they used terrific defense to stymie Michigan’s good shooters and built a 34-22 cushion. They needed every bit of it as the Wolverines rallied in the second. Most crucially, Duke was able to keep Tim Hardaway Jr. out of the box score in the first 20 minutes, holding him to 0-of-6 shooting.

Why Duke won: Big shots. Every time Michigan threatened, the Devils answered. When the Wolverines sprinted out of the second-half gates, cutting a 12-point lead to 37-33, Austin Rivers drained a 3. The freshman did the same minutes later with the lead a nervous six. Then it was Seth Curry turning 55-47 into 58-47, not to mention the solid free throw shooting down the stretch.

Why Michigan lost: Too little too late. The Wolverines don’t have a lot of room for error and, more than anything else, need Hardaway from the opening tip. That he couldn’t score in the first 20 minutes put Michigan in a hole, and despite the Wolverines' outscoring Duke 53-48 in the second half, that hole proved too large.

Star of the game: It wasn’t just the 20 team-leading points that Rivers sank that were impressive; it was when the freshman chose to make them. He had ice-water veins, opting to jack up an NBA 3 with Duke’s lead down to just six with 13:27 left. Rivers has looked erratic at times early in the season, especially against Michigan State, but he managed this game well for Duke.

What it means: The Blue Devils established they’ve got a terrific backcourt. Rivers still will make foolish mistakes as the season progresses, but his fearlessness is exactly what Duke needs. And Curry is the perfect complement, a capable scorer who is totally selfless. Regardless of whom the Devils play in the title game, they earned their quality win already. Michigan came to Maui as something of an enigma. People thought the Wolverines would be good but were hesitant to go all-in on a team with some legitimate question marks. Those doubts ought to be silenced. Michigan has proved to be a smart -- no surprise, with a John Beilein group -- and talented team that currently stacks up as the second-best team in the Big Ten.

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball

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