Sports Outside the Beltway

Tobacco Road Rivalry Resumes: Carolina Tops Duke 79-73

The beginning of February brings the last gasps of winter’s chills, or so the frozen masses hope. With it comes the realization that March Madness approaches. The groundhog emerges and begins to contemplate what team he thinks will go all the way this season. He too needs to get his brackets in on time. Some years the groundhog hits the snooze and slumbers through the final weeks before the NCAAs. Not this year. You know he was watching last night as the Battle of Tobacco Road was again joined at Cameron Indoor Stadium. A night that had promise early ended in disappointment for the Devils as the Tar Heels battled back from double digit deficits to win 79-73.

Freshman Brandan Wright scored 19 points while Tyler Hansbrough added 16 to lead the fifth-ranked Tar Heels past No. 16 Duke 79-73, earning their second straight win in Cameron Indoor Stadium and handing the Blue Devils their first three-game losing streak in nearly eight years.

Rookie Ty Lawson added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-3, 7-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who trailed by 10 points early in the second half before finally going ahead to stay in the final minutes.

Last year, Hansbrough led a youth-laden group into Cameron to close the regular season and spoil All-American J.J. Redick’s final home game in an 83-76 win. And once again, the Tar Heels rallied from a double-digit deficit and came up with the game’s big baskets in the final minutes.

This time, however, the Tar Heels hung around while constantly subbing in an endless stream of fresh bodies while pressuring Duke’s ballhandlers the entire way. By the time the game was entering its final minutes, North Carolina looked fresher and found ways to knock down the critical shots against the fast-starting Blue Devils (18-6, 5-5).

North Carolina didn’t take its first lead until there were about 5 minutes left, but shot 59 percent after halftime and hit 7 of 8 free throws in the final 31 seconds to seal it.

The regular season for both teams wraps up in Chapel Hill in less than four weeks. The Tar Heels record and big wins against Ohio State and Tennessee have made up for a pair of in conference disappointments (at NC State and at Virginia Tech) and an early season loss to Gonzaga. They play four of their last seven games at home, and are poised to contend for a number one seed in the NCAA tournament.

Duke meanwhile is riding a three game losing streak, and has to travel for five of their remaining seven games. Despite the 26 points from Freshman Jon Scheyer, the Devils were unable to hold off the Heels. This is a young Duke team. The sole Senior has logged one minute of playing time this season. How they respond to this adversity will define them and give some indication of how far they can and will go in the tournament. By the time the Devils get to Carolina they could be a broken team, or they could be riding high winners of six straight and looking to avenge last night’s loss.

Neither team faces a ranked opponent until that game. When the rivalry picks up where it left off. Five weeks from today the big dance kicks off with its sixty four entrants. The groundhog is awake and he will be watching.


Temple at Duke Roundup

I attended last night’s Blue Devils’ matchup against Temple at Cameron Indoor. To be honest, it was the least enthusiastic I have ever experienced a Crazies’ crowd. Of course, it should be noted that Duke is still on Winter Break, and the student section was filled largely by an older crowd not familiar with the student fans’ numerous rituals. Regardless, the Devils overcame a dreadful start (going down to the Owls 16-4 about 5 minutes into the first half) to pull out a convincing win against Bill Cosby’s alma mater, 73-55.

The most impressive performance of the night belonged to Duke G/F/C Josh McRoberts. Though criticized extensively earlier in the season, McBob is growing into his role as the Devils’ “play-everywhere, do-everything” potential All-American. Over the last four games, McBob is averaging 16.5 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 4.5 APG, and 4 BPG. He also has 7 steals and just 5 turnovers during the same span. That is a stat-line unlike any other forward in the sport today. Without getting too enthusiastic, Duke’s former 6’10″ monster, Shelden Williams, never put together a four game stretch like that, and Williams was certainly never trusted with the job of bringing up the ball. McRoberts’ passing and ballhandling ability is so phenomenal that he would have PG Greg Paulus’ job if McBob weren’t so essential on the interior. Duke’s schedule will be brutal from here on out (they open ACC play against Virginia Tech on Saturday); McRoberts, who is getting better with every possession, will be a household name by the time March rolls around.

As for the rest of the squad, G Demarcus Nelson had a solid game despite missing some layins early. He set a career-high in rebounds with 11, bringing his season average to 5.6 per game. For a 6’4″ shooting guard, Nelson has an uncanny ability to set himself up in the paint and outmuscle much larger players for the boards. Hopefully, he will stay healthy this season; his stellar on-ball defense is going to be essential against the likes of Georgia Tech’s Javaris Crittenton and UVA’s tough guard combo of J.R. Reynolds and Sean Singletary. G/F Dave McClure was solid as usual. The red-shirt sophomore had 12 boards to go with 6 points and a couple blocks. He looks recovered and confident following his serious knee injury and subsequent surgery. McClure is the prototype of Coach K’s new recruiting style. The coach is no longer looking to sign the top high-school talent that intends to use his program as a bed-and-breakfast walkthrough before jumping to the pros. Players such as McClure, Paulus, Nelson, G Jon Scheyer, and C Brian Zoubek are all four-year players who will grow with the program. Even McRoberts isn’t a lock to leave (though it is, unfortunately, highly probable). Put it all together (the junior Nelson is the oldest contributor on the squad), and this team, with or without McBob, is going to be a force next season. Stay tuned this year and watch them make that leap.


2007 Sports Predictions: Crystal Ball Time

For the last two years at my regular blog, I’ve made predictions for the coming year. I thought I would do that here but concentrating on sports only.

Here we go-

1- The Miami Dolphins have a losing season
2- The Florida Marlins have a winning season
3- Tiger Woods wins at least one major on the way to being Player of the Year again.
4- Ernie Els returns to form.
5- Se Ri Pak completes the women’s Grand Slam by taking the Kraft Nabisco
6- Bobby Bowden retires.
7- Roger Clemens retires but this time for good.
8- Charges are totally dropped in the Duke Lacrosse case.
9- Nick Saban leaves the Miami Dolphins to be the head coach at Alabama.
10- The Miami Heat and Florida Panthers both miss the 06-07 season playoffs.
11- Chicago defeats New England in the Super Bowl.
12- Michelle Wie wins an LPGA tournament.
13- Mike Tyson gets arrested.
14- 2007 is Joe Torre’s last season as manager of the Yankees.
15- Bill Cowher quits coaching the Pittsburgh Steelers
16- The Buffalo Sabres win the Stanley Cup
17- Bill Parcells, Marty Schottenheimer and Joe Gibbs all retire or are fired from their present coaching jobs.
18- Bret Favre retires.
19- The Chicago White Sox win the World Series
20- More than half the above predictions are wrong.

We’ll check back at the end of 2007 and see how I did.


Duke Lacrosse Rape Charges Dropped

The Duke rape case is no longer a rape case.

Prosecutors dropped rape charges Friday against three Duke University lacrosse players accused of attacking a stripper at a team party, but the three still face kidnapping and sexual offense charges, a defense attorney said.

Joseph Cheshire and attorneys for the other players have said for months the woman told several different versions of the alleged assault. Cheshire said Friday that the accuser now says she does not know if she was penetrated, which he said led District Attorney Mike Nifong to dismiss the rape charges.

So, these players have been dragged through the mud for months and their entire season was canceled on the word of a woman too stupid to know whether she was penetrated?! Unbelievable.





JJ Redick Arrested for DUI

JJ Redick arrested at the worst possible time – right before entering the NBA Draft.

Redick, 21, was pulled over at 1:03 a.m. after police saw a 2005 Toyota SUV approach a police checkpoint at South LaSalle Street near Kangaroo Drive, then do an illegal U-turn, said Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael.

An officer followed the SUV, which pulled over in the parking lot of the Belmont Apartments on McQueen Drive, Michael said. There were several passengers in the SUV, Michael said.

Police arrested Redick and almost 90 minutes later, at 2:30 a.m., Redick registered a 0.11 blood alcohol level, according to the citation. The legal limit in North Carolina is 0.08.

The officer wrote that Redick had “very glassy eyes, strong odor of alcohol coming from breath.”

Wow . . . talk about dumb. At least Big Ben had proved himself at the pro level before doing something stupid. This is much less intelligent than what Roethlisberger did – for one thing, this was illegal. For another, he had the potential to kill a lot more people (Roethlisberger was at least alone for his part, and accidents happen – he would have crashed had he been wearing a helmet, he just would have escaped the nasty head injuries). This will make all the Redick haters go nuts.

I mean driving . . . with people in the car, and then making an illegal U-Turn to avoid the checkpoint! It doesn’t get much dumber than that. And this from someone who is obsensibly a “smart athelete”. My guess is that Redick goes lower than was projected for him.


No DNA Match in Duke Gang Rape Case

My interest in Duke Lacrosse, like that of most sports fans, generally ranks somewhere between my interest in preseason minor league soccer and curling. Even when it was alleged that they gang raped a 27-year-old stripper slash college student, they were on the periphery of my consciousness. Now, that story is getting interesting.

DNA testing failed to connect any members of the Duke University lacrosse team to the alleged rape of a stripper, attorneys for the athletes said Monday. Citing DNA test results delivered by the state crime lab to police and prosecutors a few hours earlier, the attorneys said the test results prove their clients did not sexually assault and beat a stripper hired to perform at a March 13 team party. [. . . ] “There is no DNA evidence that shows she was touched by any of these boys,” said Attorney Joe Cheshire, who represents one of the team’s captains.

The alleged victim, a 27-year-old student at a nearby college, told police she and another woman were hired to dance at the party. The woman told police that three men at the party dragged her into a bathroom, choked her, raped her and sodomized her. The Associated Press does not name alleged victims in sexual assault cases.

The allegations have led to the resignation of coach Mike Pressler, the cancellation of the lacrosse season and the suspension of one player from school. The case also led to days of protests on and off the Duke campus, and some of the players have moved for safety reasons.

Cheshire said the report indicated authorities took DNA samples from all over the alleged victim’s body, including under her fingernails, and from her possessions, such as her cell phone and her clothes. “They swabbed about every place they could possibly swab from her, in which there could be any DNA,” he said.

District Attorney Mike Nifong has said he would have other evidence to make his case should the DNA analysis prove inconclusive or fail to match a member of the team. “I believe a sexual assault took place,” Nifong told The News & Observer of Raleigh on Monday. “I’m not saying it’s over. If that’s what they expect, they will be sadly disappointed.”


Stan Goldman, who teaches criminal law, evidence and criminal procedure at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the DNA results don’t mean that Nifong can’t go forward with the case — but the test results make a successful prosecution much harder. “Isn’t the absence of DNA evidence, given the way the victim has described the crime, in and of itself almost enough to raise a reasonable doubt?” he said. “That’s all the defense has to do.”

LaShawn Barber invokes the Tawana Brawley case, which might indeed be apt. Dallas Cowboys fans may also recall an incident several years back when Michael Irvin and Erik Williams were falsely accused of rape. It certainly happens.

The problem with all these cases is that a woman who alleges she is raped is automatically presumed to be an innocent victim. The AP is not alone in its policy of refusing to publish the names of accusers, yet everyone rushes to print the charges, which irreparably tar the accused. In this case, a man has lost his job, a team has lost their season, and all concerned are permanently scarred. Yet the accuser, who quite probably made the whole thing up, remains unscathed.




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