- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2008

It doesn’t matter to Greg Paulus. Whether it was Duke’s thrilling win at North Carolina or Thursday night’s escape of No. 15 Belmont in the first round of the NCAA tournament, he won’t sleep.

So Paulus would have been antsy even if the Blue Devils had done what many expected — handle their opponent like fellow second seeds Texas or Georgetown or pull away late from a pesky opponent, as Tennessee did with American?

“Whether we win or lose, whether it’s a good game or a bad game, I run through all the plays in my head,” Duke’s junior point guard said.

If that’s the case, Paulus had a lot of thinking to do Thursday night/Friday morning as Duke escaped Belmont and started contemplating today’s game against No. 7 West Virginia.

For example, if Duke can’t run away from the Atlantic Sun Conference champion, how much trouble are they in against one of the Big East’s top teams?

Or if Duke can survive a go-for-broke Belmont team that had shooting touch and the crowd on its side, can it flourish today?

The Blue Devils are banking on the latter.

They don’t look at all the backdoor plays they gave up in the first half and open 3-point looks they allowed early in the second half. Instead, they spent yesterday pointing to the game’s final two minutes and Gerald Henderson’s performance as reasons for confidence.

Belmont led 70-69 with 2:02 remaining.

The Bruins didn’t score again, coming up empty on their last four possessions.

The Blue Devils scored the winner on Henderson’s steal and ensuing layup with 12 seconds remaining.

“It is a good sign that when we needed to play well, we played well and when we needed to get stops, we got stops,” freshman Kyle Singler said. “That’s something we can take away from that game that’s positive.”

Said Paulus: “We did a really good job closing the game. Having confidence and winning a close game, hopefully that will carry us on.”

Specifically in the second half, it was Henderson who carried the Blue Devils. In the first half, he had four points. In the final 20 minutes, he scored 17 points.

“The game was pretty close and knowing it could have been our last game of the season, that gave me extra incentive to play harder and assert myself even more,” Henderson said. “We always like to say we have each other’s backs. Some guys are going to be there some games, they just might not be there [on a certain] night.”

Henderson was the only Duke player to score in the final seven minutes, when had eight points.

“I didn’t think he had a particularly good first half, so it makes what he did in the second half even bigger,” Krzyzewski said. “Everything we did down to the last couple of minutes, we went to him whether it be a shot or to make a pay and he responded.”

The offensive output was Henderson’s biggest in 15 games and only the fourth time in 33 games this season.

Henderson gave an incredulous look when asked if beating Belmont by one point damaged Duke’s moxie.

“We know what kind of team we are and know what of team they were,” he said. “We weren’t going to just run them over. Our confidence going forward is just as high as it’s been all year.”

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