With their backs to the wall, the Duke Blue Devils came out on fire Wednesday night at Boston College and earned a much needed 78-70 victory to stop the bleeding of a four game losing streak and get in the win column for the first time in the month of February.
Duke put four players into double figures and did a terrific defensive job against Boston College's Jared Dudley, holding the league player of the year candidate to just 11 points and four rebounds.
The Blue Devils took control of the game in the final stages of the first half, using the program's patented relentless hustle to force Boston College into turnovers, which more often than not led to easy baskets in transition.
Duke's halfcourt offense was just as effective as the Blue Devils backdoored and dribble penetrated the Eagles left and right to open up a 43-32 lead at halftime.
After a Tyrese Rice basket tied the score 29-29 with five minutes left in the opening half, Duke reeled off a 14-3 run heading into the locker room that featured four dunks and a pair of three pointers, leaving the partisan Boston College crowd at Conte Forum shaking its collective head.
Duke carried that momentum over into the second half as well, again piling up a litany of easy dunks and layups in transition to build a 65-41 lead with 12:53 to play.
Combining the spurts at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half, Duke outscored the Eagles 36-12 in a 12 minute stretch to take a commanding lead.
Boston College would fight back though as Sean Marshall found his range from the three point line and Duke began milking the clock on offense.
The Eagles closed the gap to as few as six points on two occasions, but a Jon Scheyer steal resulted in an easy layup for Greg Paulus and Gerald Henderson's driving basket with 35 seconds remaining pushed the final margin back to eight and sealed the win for the Blue Devils.
"It's a huge win when the world's against you and everyone is looking to bury us," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. "These kids have played hard, they just have lost a few really tough games. They've played to win all the time and I'm really proud of them."
Josh McRoberts filled up the box score in superb fashion, tallying 18 points and 11 rebounds to go along with five assists and three steals. The sophomore co-captain dominated the action around the rim for most of the night and helped steady the ship down the stretch when it looked like the lead might slip away.
Paulus also deserves praise for a very impressive floor game that featured seven assists and 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the floor. He bagged a key three pointer with five minutes left in the game to stop a strong Boston College spurt and push the lead back to 14 points at 71-57.
Nelson would follow with a three of his own on Duke's next possession to answer a trey by Marshall on the other end, serving to stop any more developing momentum on the Boston College side.
Nelson equaled Paulus with 15 points and made numerous hustle plays, none bigger than when he won a race to midcourt for a long rebound and finished with an uncontested dunk to put a halt to a 12-1 Boston College run at the 7:00 mark of the second half.
The win pushed Duke back to .500 in the ACC with a 6-6 record, moved the Blue Devils within one victory of win number 20 on the season, and silenced growing talk that they might be playing themselves right onto the NCAA Tournament bubble.
But the schedule gets no easier as Duke welcomes surging Georgia Tech to Cameron Indoor Stadium Sunday.
Dealing out revenge on the Yellow Jackets after they defeated Duke in January will be tough, but winning on the road against the league leader will undoubtedly give the Blue Devils a much needed shot in the arm.
"We have a lot of games left, but winning this one the way we did was a great win for these kids," Krzyzewski said.