for this game

McRoberts helps Duke squeak past Kent State

Dec 20, 2006 - 6:04 AM DURHAM, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Josh McRoberts and Duke once again got pushed around, but shoved back at the right time.

McRoberts scored 11 of his career-high 19 points in the second half as the sixth-ranked Blue Devils used a late push to capture a hard-fought 79-72 victory over Kent State.

Still struggling to find its identity as the team is devoid of a senior leader like it had in J.J. Redick or Shelden Williams last season, Duke (10-1) went on a 10-0 run with eight minutes remaining to extend the nation's longest home-court winning streak against non-conference opponents to 49.

"We wouldn't have won if we didn't make some progress," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Our offense was a lot better tonight. You cannot assume that you're going to play defense. You have to come ready to play.

"Our program has been built because I am a defensive coach. I have a passion to play defense on every exchange. I've been here 27 years and every play that's played at Duke University, I'm passionate about playing defense and that's what I require my team to do."

Despite the impressive streak, the latest addition proved difficult as the Golden Flashes shook off an early deficit and led, 55-52, on a layup by Chris Singletary with 10:11 remaining.

"We won a really tough basketball game tonight," Krzyzewski said. "One of the reasons we scheduled Kent State was because of our respect for their basketball program. I told my team for the last two days that we were not playing a basketball team, we were playing a basketball program and a culture that is accustomed to winning and has a well-conceived offense and defense."

The Blue Devils, who were challenged by Georgetown and Holy Cross earlier this month before pulling away, quickly grabbed back the lead but did not get separation until McRoberts snapped a 57-57 tie on a jumper with 8:04 left.

The sophomore forward-center also split two free throws and sandwiched a jumper and a layup around a 3-pointer by DeMarcus Nelson to give Duke a 67-57 advantage with 5:03 to play.

Kent State (5-4) answered back with two baskets, including a layup by Omni Smith, who finished with a career-high 33 points. However, McRoberts' three-point play made it 70-61 with 3:32 to play.

"You have a better chance of winning when somebody makes plays like that," Krzyzewski said. "That was big in Josh (McRoberts') development with where we need him to be."

McRoberts finished 8-of-16 from the field with six rebounds and a career-high six blocks. Nelson, who shot 2-of-5 from the arc, scored 18 points.

"We play in the MAC (Mid-American Conference), we don't see guys like that," Kent State coach Jim Christian said about McRoberts. "He's backing guys down, he's firing passes, he's scoring in the post, he's an All-American and he played like it."

Freshman Jon Scheyer, who finished with 17 points, was sizzling from the start. The 6-5 guard scored 10 straight points for the Blue Devils in the opening four minutes, including a four-point play that supplied a 14-4 advantage with 16:14 left.

Duke managed to extend that lead to 12 points moments later on a pair of free throws by freshman Brian Zoubek, but Kent State stormed back as Smith scored eight of the game's next 13 points, closing the Flashes within 19-14 with 12:55 remaining.

Smith, who scored 19 points in first half, helped continue to cut the deficit for Kent State, which took its first lead since early in the contest at 38-37 on a 3-pointer by freshman Chris Singletary with 1:16 left.

However, the Blue Devils avoided their third halftime deficit in their last four games when Scheyer found McRoberts for a dunk and a 39-38 lead with four seconds remaining.

Still, Smith remained a thorn in Duke's side throughout, finishing 14-of-20 from the floor, including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers.

"He's our best guy at relieving pressure and creative basketball so I thought he could make some plays," Christian said. "I didn't know he could do that, but he had a tremendous performance tonight." However, the senior guard also committed 10 of Kent State's 18 turnovers.

Singletary scored 11 points and Haminn Quaintance added 10, 10 assists and six rebounds for the Flashes, who fell to 4-13 all-time against teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference despite shooting 51 percent (30-of-59) from the field.