If there can be a gut check game this early in the season, Friday night's NIT season tipoff championship game between Duke and Memphis was it.
Duke scratched out a 70-67 victory over Memphis, keyed by Shelden Williams' monster effort in the paint.
The senior national player of the year candidate equaled his career high of 30 points and tipped in what proved to be the winning basket when Sean Dockery missed a driving layup with 30 seconds remaining in the game.
The Devils got a subsequent defensive stand when Lee Melchionni snared the rebound following a missed 15 foot running bank shot by Memphis guard Darius Washington.
The suspense wasn't completely over though, as Melchionni promptly missed two free throws after being fouled, but the second miss banged long off the back of the rim into the hands of Sean Dockery.
Dockery took a foul but also failed to put the game away, making one of two at the line to extend the lead to 70-67.
The Duke win wasn't secured until Shawne Williams came up short on a long three point attempt to tie the game, giving the Devils a 5-0 start to the season and the tournament championship.
Playing without the injured DeMarcus Nelson, Duke used just seven players against the deeper and bigger Tigers.
Freshman Greg Paulus played the best game of his young Duke career as he was called on to play 39 minutes of action in the Duke backcourt.
He responded with eight assists to go along with an unexpected eight rebounds. He knifed his way through the Memphis defense on several occasions, leading to some easy points for Williams as he marched toward his 30 point total.
J.J. Redick continued his great play in the first half by putting up 15 points in the first 20 minutes of action.
However, in the second half, playing with a bloodied nose stopped by rolled up tissue, he struggled get free against stifling defense from Rodney Carney.
Redick went scoreless in the second half and attempted just three shots. However, he distributed the ball nicely, including one key dish to Dockery in the corner for a three pointer to increase the Duke lead to 67-63.
The day belonged to The Landlord though. With Redick contained in the second half, Williams put the Devils on his back to lead his team to victory.
His efficient output included 11-for-13 field goal shooting in 39 minutes of action, and he also played intelligent defense even though he picked up his fourth foul late in the game.
He scored in a variety of ways: easy dunks off Paulus assists, turning baby hooks in the paint, off high-low feeds from Redick.
The game belonged to him from start to finish.
Shawne Williams led the balanced Memphis offense with 13 points on a team that used nine players for more than 10 minutes of action and ten players overall.
Duke's shorthanded team fought through Nelson's injury, Redick's abnormally low production, and the problems posed by a big, strong, and athletic Tiger lineup to capture the championship.
The title gives Duke championships in each of its last two trips to the preseason version of NIT. Duke won the title in 2000 as well.
Devils Illustrated will have more on the win tonight and analysis of where the Devils stand five games into the season.