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Duke rebounds its way to title game

Kyle Singler and Duke have ramped up their rebounding this season. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

INDIANAPOLIS – Walk-on Casey Peters left Duke’s practice down a tooth the other day, the latest casualty in the skirmishes that have become commonplace for the Blue Devils this season.

“It seems like every practice, someone leaves bleeding,’’ Brian Zoubek said.

Once labeled soft, Duke has changed its tenor this season, allowing its size to redefine the image of the program. The Blue Devils don’t always shoot the ball, but they always rebound it.

This season Duke is beating its opponents on the boards by an average of seven rebounds per game, but it’s on the offensive glass that has really been the difference. The Devils average 14 offensive rebounds per game.

In a 78-57 win against West Virginia, the Blue Devils shot 53 percent and still pulled down 11 offensive rebounds.

Think about that.

Duke barely missed yet still managed a 19 to 7 edge on second-chance points, including scoring the first 17 second-chance points of the game.

“We rebound the heck out of the ball,’’ Lance Thomas said. “If they miss, we’re going to rebound it and kick it back out to them. They aren’t going to miss twice too often.’’

Rebounding isn’t something that just comes upon a team like some sort of midnight inspiration. It’s an attitude and it has to be honed.

For Duke, that’s happened at practice.

“We go at it,’’ Thomas said. “It’s ugly. We really suffer and push it to the brink. Sometimes there’s some scuffles’’

Zoubek, who now gets a ‘Zoooo’ chant from the Duke faithful just for snagging a board, dresses more like a lineman than a center – thigh pads, knee pads, arm bands – and has become the angrier face of the once placid Duke team.

His 10 rebounds against WVU were every bit as critical as the points scored by the big three of Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer.

“It’s hard. You have to learn to love it,’’ Zoubek said. “I think for a while we didn’t understand that you had to work that hard. Now we recognize it’s all for a reason. We’re here and it’s well worth it.’’