NEW YORK -- Kueth Duany grew up in America's basketball heartland -- Bloomington, Ind., where his parents were on the faculty at Indiana University during coach Bob Knight's regime.
But the stringbean forward had a secret in his basketball bloodlines: His father went to Syracuse.
''I was always a Syracuse fan,'' Duany said. ''When I had a chance to go there, I jumped at it.''
So he wound up on the Orangemen's bench, whispering in coach Jim Boeheim's ear.
At 6-foot-6, Duany pictured himself as a jump shooter, a finesse player who could pop from outside. Boeheim wanted him inside, disrupting things. It was a continuing debate between player and coach.
The last word belonged to the coach and Duany's time was limited. The redshirt junior never started and was rarely a factor. So he tried another tactic, following Boeheim's advice and taking his game inside. The coach noticed the change, promoted Duany to the starting lineup and has been rewarded with big-time production.
There was a double-double, 17 points and 12 rebounds, against DePaul in the Preseason NIT. Duany backed that up with 24 points in the tournament semifinal, a 69-58 victory against No. 13 Michigan State.
He will pose major matchup problems for Wake Forest in Friday's championship game at Madison Square Garden. The Demon Deacons advanced with a 62-61 win over No. 23 Fresno State. Darius Songaila's put-back basket with just more than one second to play rescued coach Skip Prosser's team.
Both No. 18 Syracuse and Wake Forest blew big leads, the Orangemen letting a 12-point edge get away and the Deacons dropping behind after leading by 16. In the end, though, Duany and Songaila bailed out their teams.
Boeheim was happy to win on a night when Syracuse shot poorly. Duany, though, did not, hitting 10 of 18 shots and playing all 40 minutes. He had bookend baskets in a 13-0 run that put the game away in the last four minutes and came out of the game with a three-stitch cut on his hand after hitting it on the rim.
''I never thought he was tough enough in the beginning,'' Boeheim said. ''He's gotten a little tougher. He's hanging in there, banging people, battling people a little harder. Every day, he works hard on his shooting and he's become a pretty good shooter.''
Duany has become a big help to Syracuse mainstays Preston Shumpert and DeShaun Williams, who both struggled with their shots against Michigan State.
''I've always felt any good team has to have three guys who can score,'' Boeheim said. ''You can't win with two unless they're big-time scorers. Maybe Kueth is our third.''
Songaila, playing his 100th career game, rescued Wake Forest with his putback of Josh Howard's miss at the end of the game against Fresno State. Antwan Scott and Broderick Hicks scored 14 apiece but Songaila, who had 11, saved the Deacons.
''Seniors are supposed to do that,'' Prosser said.
He worries about Syracuse's zone defense, which wore down Michigan State.
''It doesn't bode well for Friday because Syracuse plays the best zone in the country,'' he said.
Prosser, in his first season at Wake Forest, is trying to put a new running system in place, and his team is a work in progress. The Deacons were the only one of the Preseason NIT's final four teams to win on the road when they beat Arkansas at Fayetteville, where coach Nolan Richardson preaches a defense he calls 40 minutes of hell.
''Ultimately, we're going to become a very good pressing team,'' Prosser said. ''Right now, you can say we're 40 minutes of heck.''
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