NEW YORK (AP)—Greg Paulus had five stitches in his chin and a wide smile on his face.
The sophomore point guard scored a career-high 20 points and combined with Josh McRoberts on three big plays in the second half to help No. 6 Duke beat No. 22 Gonzaga 61-54 on Thursday night in the Aeropostale Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Suddenly the foot injury that kept him out of the preseason and limited his movement once the games began was old news. So was the illness that cost him more time. The stitches that came after a dive into a courtside table chasing a loose ball Thursday were an afterthought. The 6-foot-1 point guard had one thing on his mind.
“We got the win,” he said with a smile when asked if this was his best game of the season. “No. It’s up there,”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told Paulus he had to forget what had happened so far in his sophomore year.
“Right after exams I said, `OK. The season starts now. Don’t take anything you’ve had with you forward,”’ Krzyzewski said of his talk with Paulus last weekend. “He was terrific. I told him the stitches made him better looking.”
Paulus and fellow sophomore McRoberts came up big for the Blue Devils (11-1) on the offensive end in a defensive game that saw plenty of missed shots and almost as many bodies on the floor.
“When Greg and I are on the same page it’s going to be good for our team,” McRoberts said. “Obviously he played great and when he does he’s one of one of the big parts of our playing well.”
On the defensive end, the star for Duke was freshman guard Jon Scheyer, who had the main assignment on Gonzaga senior Derek Raivio, who finished with a season-low four points, 16 below his season average.
“It seemed like he ran off a thousand screens,” Scheyer said. “DeMarcus (Nelson) also did a good job on him and that was one of the things we focused on coming into the game to keep him under control.”
Duke bounced back from an awful first half that ended with the Bulldogs (9-4) leading 21-20. The Blue Devils 22.6 percent (7-for-31), while Gonzaga made 35.7 percent (10-for-28).
Things changed quickly at the start of the second half for Duke as the Blue Devils hit six of their first seven shots and took a 34-30 lead. Gonzaga was never in front again as Duke won its seventh straight, this one before a sellout crowd of 19,528.
Scheyer finished with 14 points, while McRoberts had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Jeremy Pargo had 21 points, 17 in the second half, for the Bulldogs, who have lost three of four.
“That was a tough, hard-nosed basketball game and definitely more of a grinder game than we have been in,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “He is a great coach and he has a firm conviction on defense and that emanates to all of his players. They play so darn hard. You have guys like Paulus diving into the scorer’s table and flying around. That is what great coaches do and their teams reflect their beliefs.”
Pargo scored on a terrific spin move to get Gonzaga to 41-38 with 8:27 left. That’s when McRoberts and Paulus got together for the first of their key plays.
Paulus was taking the ball out of bounds under the Gonzaga basket and he found McRoberts among four defenders with a bounce pass for a dunk that restored the lead to five.
Josh Heytvelt made two free throws with 6:59 left to get the Bulldogs to 45-40 when McRoberts threw a touch pass to Paulus for a 3 that made it an eight-point lead.
The third play came in the final minute after Matt Bouldin had scored to get Gonzaga within four at 54-50. McRoberts’ fifth assist of the game a bounce pass to a cutting Paulus who laid it to make it 56-50 with 52 seconds to go.
“They kept coming hard at us with runs that got them close,” Paulus said. “Some teams fold when that happens but it’s great to see we fought back.”
Raivio, who had scored at least 19 points in his last nine games, finished 1-for-4 from the field. He tried running Scheyer into screen after screen, but he couldn’t shake the freshman, forcing Pargo to step up as the Bulldogs’ offensive threat.
Pargo was 8-for-13 from the field and had nine rebounds and four assists.
Still, the Bulldogs lost consecutive games for the first time since December 2002, when they lost to Stanford and Saint Joseph’s.
Gonzaga was looking for its second win over a top Atlantic Coast Conference team in Madison Square Garden as it beat No. 2 North Carolina 82-74 in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
The loss drops the Bulldogs of the West Coast Conference to 8-2 all-time against ACC teams.
“We are trying to play in big games and big environments that mimic the NCAA tournament,” Few said. “That game had an NCAA tournament feel to it, with somewhat of a neutral floor and teams away from home. Two teams going at it really hard, playing hard and wanting it. Their guys stepped up and made plays down the stretch.”