Rookies to the rescue
Posted January 26, 2013
Updated January 27, 2013
Following Duke's steamrolling at Miami, Mike Krzyzewski talked openly about needing his veterans to come up with the goods. He noted more than once that if Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Quin Cook are only going to make 6-of-37 shots from the field, then it's going to be a long night.
In hindsight, there's no doubt that Coach K was correct. There were a lot of issues that caused the trio to shoot a combined 16 percent, but at the end of the day, those numbers explained a lot. So you knew that things were bound to change when Duke met Maryland at Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday afternoon.
But, it wasn't necessarily the vets that engineered the turnaround.
Freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon caught fire in the first half for Duke, knocking down all five of his 3-pointers en route to a career high 25-points. But, it was how he went about things that impressed his coach.
Upset about how Sulaimon was playing on the defensive end, having allowed Maryland's Dez Wells to score the Terps' first seven points, Krzyzewski was in the process of, well, let's just say explaining to the rookie what he was doing wrong, when Sulaimon said, 'I got it, coach, I'll be better.'
After re-entering the game with 13:49 left in the first half, Suliamon went to work putting the Terrapins in Duke's rear view mirror. The Houston native scored the Devils' next 13 points, all on 3-pointers, in a span of 2:44, as Duke opened up a 9-point lead and never really were threatened after that as the Devils rolled to an 84-64 win. Sulaimon added two assists and didn't commit a turnover in his 29-minute afternoon and at one point was a perfect 6-for-6 from beyond the 3-point line.
But, he wasn't the only youngster -- with apologies to Roy Williams -- to contribute Saturday. Amile Jefferson continued his development, filling in for the injured Ryan Kelly, with an 11-point, 9-rebound performance that showed awareness, aggression and a total lack of fear despite looking like a leprechaun compared with whomever he was matched up against. At times, Jefferson was charged with guarding future NBA lottery pick, Alex Len -- all 7-feet 1-inch and 255 pounds of him. Other times it was either of the Terrapins 6-foot-8, 265-pound defensive tackles, Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare. And, while it wasn't always pretty, Jefferson held his own, got to the free throw line and blocked three shots in 24 very impressive minutes.
In all, it was a complete bounce back from the Miami debacle for the Blue Devils. Mason Plumlee snapped out of whatever funk he'd been suffering from with 19 points on 12 shots from the field. Plumlee, especially over the last few games, looked like he was trying to force things on the offensive end of the court, but today, just allowed things to happen within the framework of Duke's offense. And, this offense is more effective when it flows through the 6-foot-11 senior. Today, that led to a far more efficient team as the Devils shot 52 percent from the floor and made half of their 22 shots from 3-point range.
Seth Curry also enjoyed a bit of a rebound performance, hitting a trio of his long-range attempts and Quin Cook was very steady in leading a Duke attack that combined for 18 assists with just four turnovers -- zero in the second half. It's amazing what happens, as Coach K offered after the game, "sometimes you just have to see the ball go in."
It's important to remember, however, that Maryland isn't necessarily a great test right now for anyone. The Terrapins are among the worst teams in the league, offensively speaking. And, Mark Turgeon is shuffling through three point guards -- which is tantamount to having three starting quarterbacks -- which means that he doesn't really have ANYONE he really likes running his offense. But, Maryland didn't play terribly today. In spite of a much better defensive effort from the Blue Devils, the Terps only turned the ball over 14 times, and Maryland's work on the boards kept them in the game early. The Terrapins had a dozen 1st half offensive rebounds that led to 12 second chance points and used that to only trail by eight points at the break.
Was it the prettiest win of the season for Duke? Well, it's always going to look good when you shoot well, and the Blue Devils shot the ball well. But, in terms of effort, execution, attention to detail and focus, this is what Mike Krzyzewski needed to see from his group today.
Now, with five of their next seven games on the road, and the other two at home against the Wolfpack and Tar Heels, we'll see how much this afternoon means going forward. Just ask the guys at NC State, it only really matters if you can repeat the performance. Time will tell.