Stars come out in Duke's win over State
Posted February 8, 2013
The stars were out in Durham for Duke's 98-85 win over NC State Thursday night.
No, I'm not talking about Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak or Dell and Sonya Curry, Seth's parents who are fixtures at Blue Devils games. I'm talking about some of the best players in this league putting on a show for the Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd.
Mason Plumlee played every bit the role of the national player of the year candidate tonight, loading up with 30 points, nine rebounds a couple of assists and the defensive play of the night – a block of a Calvin Leslie lay up attempt with 1:21 to go that effectively ended all hopes for an improbable Wolfpack comeback.
But it was more than just the numbers Thursday that made Plumlee so outstanding. Scoring 32 points at Wake Forest was nice – no, it was great – and Duke needed all of them in a back and forth game that the Devils didn't secure until very late. But Thursday against NC State, in the featured game of the week in the conference – and against two of the best players in the league in Leslie and Richard Howell – Plumlee was the biggest star of the night.
He dunked, he defended, he drove and he simply dominated all night long. After a torrid start to the season, Plumlee went through a stretch where he wasn't effective. That it coincided with the injury to Ryan Kelly only exacerbated the problem. Thursday. however, when his team needed him the most, Plumlee stamped himself once again a serious figure for national honors with a stellar night as the Devils won for the seventh time in the ACC.
For those who look at the stat sheet too much, Richard Howell might not appear to be much of a candidate for ACC player of the year. In fact, at just 12 points per game and shooting less than 50 percent from the floor, he's likely a long shot anyway.
He shouldn't be. He's a force.
On a team with so many future pros, Howell might have the best professional career. He just plays harder than you – ALL NIGHT LONG. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called Howell, the "most unsung, great player in this league", and it's hard to argue against him.
Howell, scored 23 points – 14 in the second half – and never stopped fighting until he was called for his fifth foul with 3:41 to go. Coming into the season, Calvin Leslie and Lorenzo Brown were the expected stars. But Richard Howell is the best basketball player on their roster and one of the two or three best in the entire league.
Coming into the season Duke had many questions that needed positive answers if they were going to erase the bitter memory of their opening NCAA tournament loss to Lehigh.
Among the most pressing was would Quin Cook be able to step into the role of point guard and become the kind of player that makes others around him better. Well, with about six weeks left until the NCAA Tournament, Cook has provided the response the Blue Devils were hoping for.
He can score, pass, shoot, defend and he doesn't make a lot of mistakes. Against NC State, in spite of early foul trouble, the sophomore delivered 21 points, hit four of his five 3-pointers and even blocked a shot in the second half. Last year, through an injury-plagued and confidence-starved season, Cook looked lost. Granted, he didn't play a lot, but he didn't warrant playing a lot either.
This year, though, Quin has taken command, giving the Devils everything they need, just about whenever they need it.
Tyler Lewis doesn't scare easily. Before the game, the prevailing thought throughout the arena was that Lewis was going to have a rough go of things against the high pressure defense he was likely to see from Cook and Tyler Thornton.
Unlike games at Virginia and against Miami, Duke wasn't going to sit back and let Lewis dictate to them. Well, Lewis evidently thought differently, as he met every challenge Duke offered. The fearless freshman – who, incidentally, followed Cook at Oak Hill Academy – scored 13 points, dished out six assists and did not commit a turnover in 39 minutes subbing for the still-injured Lorenzo Brown.
I know this is going to sound blasphemous, but right now, Lewis is the best freshman on the Wolfpack's roster. I only hope that when Brown returns, Lewis continues to get the opportunity to help, because he can.
And finally, what can you say about Seth Curry? The senior co-captain hardly practices due to a lower leg injury that makes running painful. Yet, all Dell's kid does is compete – and make a lot of 3-pointers!
Curry's efficiency wasn't very high tonight, making just six of 15 shots from the field and four of his dozen long-range attempts. But Curry still found a way to get to the free throw line 12 times and give Duke 26 points, 10 of which came in the final two minutes of the first half as the Blue Devils were seemingly putting NC State away.
Curry, in spite of his physical limitations, is having a whale of a send-off season. You only hope his leg holds up for another two months.