Nelson, Duke top Cornell in long-awaited returnJan 7, 2008 - 4:48 AM DURHAM, North Carolina (Ticker) -- It showed that DeMarcus Nelson and Duke had not taken the court in more than two weeks.
Nelson scored 23 points as the eighth-ranked Blue Devils shook off their long delay to edge a pesky Cornell squad with an 81-67 victory on Sunday.
Freshman Kyle Singler had 14 points and eight rebounds and Gerald Henderson scored 12 for Duke (11-1), which was playing for the first time since a 65-64 setback in overtime to Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden on December 20.
That was the first loss of the season for the Blue Devils, and their first setback in the month of December since 2000.
"We've had a long break," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I don't know if we're in game shape or game talk yet. We weren't communicating very well out on the court. We've got to get back to playing basketball, being sharp and doing these things."
Early on, Duke did not show much rust as it raced out to a 16-8 lead just over seven minutes in. Henderson had six points in the strong start.
The Big Red, however, would not go away easily, rallying for a 27-24 lead with 6:28 remaining on the strength of a 14-4 spurt. Ryan Wittman had two 3-pointers during that span.
"They're very well-coached, poised, and I think they were real loose," Krzyzewski said of Cornell. "Sometimes teams come in here and get real tight and, at other times, they get so loose that they're not afraid to lose, not afraid to fail and not afraid to make mistakes. In this case, I think that's where Cornell was, and that's really good preparation on their part."
The Blue Devils responded with a 17-5 run to close out the first half, going ahead, 41-32, heading into the break. Nelson had eight points in that burst.
Once again, a big run by Duke didn't discourage Cornell (6-5), which closed within six points at 45-39 in the opening minutes of the second half after a layup by Alex Tyler.
The Blue Devils once again built up their cushion, pulling ahead, 52-39, after a soaring, one-handed dunk by Nelson with 15:10 left. It was a memorable basket for the senior guard, who reached 1,001 career points.
"Once the game started I wasn't even thinking about that at all," Nelson said of the milestone. "It wasn't something I was playing for or even was aware of during the course of the game.
"It was a pretty good play to do it on. I was about to pass it to Nolan (Smith) to do a give-and-go but the guy was kind of shading to his side, so I just took another dribble and went airborne."
The Big Red twice got within eight points thereafter, but could not pull any closer en route to losing for the fourth time in six games.
Cornell coach Steve Donahue was surprised that Duke did not make a signature run to blow open the contest.
"There's a point in every game against Duke I think they're going to pull away to be quite honest. I'd be lying if I didn't," he said. "In all due respect to Duke, 17 days off, they're a young team.
"I think people just forget that sometimes because they have Duke across their shirt that they're not freshmen, but they are. I think he's (Krzyzewski) going to have a very good team as it goes on."
Nelson finished 8-of-13 with two 3-pointers and grabbed eight rebounds for Duke, which finished with a 42-30 advantage on the boards.
Wittman had 13 points with three 3-pointers and Jeff Foote chipped in 10 for Cornell, which shot 47 percent (27-of-58) from the field with six 3-pointers.
"I thought Ryan played a good game but they were really guarding him," Donahue said. "Once again he's a kid that when he's at our level most times he's very difficult to guard."
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