Purdue Basketball: It will COMB YOU OVER!!!
But then the game started, and suddenly, I wasn't having so much fun. Purdue ground the game down to a halt. Duke was missing open looks. Purdue was airballing threes on several of their possessions. At one point in the first half, the two teams were shooting a combined 44%. And to clarify, this wasn't a combined average. Duke was shooting 23%. Purdue was shooting 21%. This one was as ugly as, well...I'm not gonna say it.
With 6:30 remaining in the first half -- yes, I made a note to remind myself -- I wanted to turn the game off. I wanted to stop watching altogether and instead turn on the episode of Kitchen Nightmares that I had DVR'ed earlier in the night. But I'm a soldier, so I stuck with it. I felt like a long-time smoker who desperately wanted to kick the habit -- "Just one more possession and then I'll turn it off. Okay, definitely after this one. Fine, just one more missed shot." Unfortunately for me, they don't have gum or a patch for offensive ineptitude, and I'm not the kind of guy who can go cold turkey.
When I talked to several friends on Wednesday night, the general consensus was that Purdue's offense was awful without Robbie Hummel (it is), and that they weren't going to be able to score points on us (they weren't), even with the construction worker from the Village People playing the point. But in the first half, at least, the question all Duke fans were thinking was, "Well, what if Duke can't score either?" At one point, five and a half minutes passed without either team scoring a basket. Singler was carrying the team with a handful of points, but Nolan was shooting at right around the team average (which is to say, poorly), and Scheyer had gone about 30 minutes of game action (including part of the second half of the Cal game) without making a shot from the field.
The turning point came with about a minute left in the first half. Duke was down 23-19. Singler hit a three, and then got a steal on the defensive end. With the clock running down, Nolan Smith hit a jumper and somehow, improbably, Duke had a halftime lead. Perhaps even more important was that they didn't lose this momentum during halftime. Purdue was able to tie it up twice, but never led again, and Duke was able to pull away for good with about 6 minutes left. The desperation-free-throw and let-them-get-layups-just-don't-foul inflated final score: Duke 70 - Purdue 57.
Pair this with Baylor's demolition of St. Mary's earlier in the night, and I'm guessing a lot of people will be predicting an upset on Sunday. The truth is, Baylor played exceptionally well against a St. Mary's team that needed a lucky 3-point bank shot to beat a Villanova team that almost lost their first-round game to Robert Morris. Maybe St. Mary's wasn't as good as everyone was saying it was. Maybe Omar Samhan is just a big doofy kid, and not a future NBA all-star. (Considering his YouTube handle, I'd say this is probably the case.)
At least this is what I'm telling myself. Because if Baylor is as good as they looked, and Duke plays as poorly as they played for the majority of the game tonight, the Blue Devils are in a lot of trouble. Not too many more teams that Duke will play in the tournament are going to consistently airball open looks. I think Duke at their best is better than Baylor at their best; unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which side you're on), the likelihood that we'll see Duke at their best on Sunday isn't nearly as high as the probability that Poopshower's YouTube channel will go back online now that he's been eliminated from the tournament. And no, there's absolutely no way I'm going to image link anything I wrote in that last sentence.
Still, I want to step out of my Debbie Downer role for just a minute and congratulate Duke for making the Elite 8 for the first time since I was a freshman there. Yes, it's been that long. And yes, I consider that a long time. Yankees fans from 2001-2008 will understand.
Am I going to make a prediction for the Baylor game? Fine, even though I really don't want to. In my opinion, if this game comes down to a final shot, it's not going to go Duke's way. And my hunch is that this game is definitely going to come down to the last minute. But my hunch also told me to pick Syracuse to win it all. So screw you, hunch. Duke wins on a Jon Scheyer 80-footer at the buzzer.