Thornton shepherds Blue Devils to Sunday game
Posted March 30, 2013
I'll bet you Tyler Thornton owns a cape.
Thornton, Duke's junior guard from Washington, DC, rescued the Blue Devils in their 71-61 win over Michigan State Friday night (Saturday morning) in Indianapolis. Normally used for defense and energy, Thornton was needed to bail the Devils out of a point-guard quandary when this game proved beyond Quinn Cook's emotional capabilities. For some reason, Cook seemed overwhelmed by the moment. A pair of puzzling, unforced turnovers unnerved him in the opening half, and he just never recovered.
Enter Thornton, who's become a bit of an offensive spark off the bench over the past few games. In fact, he hasn't missed a shot from the floor in three NCAA tournament games this year. Okay, so he's only attempted five shots, but four of them have been from 3-point range. In the past he's been a guy you could take a chance at leaving open, but in this tournament he's making the defense pay for that strategy.
Friday was about a lot more important things than statistics. Thornton's box score wasn't exactly one you'd bury in the backyard and show future civilizations. Three points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals. That's a modest night for a guy in the regional semifinals who played 26 minutes.
No, Tyler Thornton's biggest contribution against Michigan State was his poise under pressure, something Cook was unable to provide for the team he's led since the second game of the season. Thornton controlled, defended, calmed, cajoled and led the Blue Devils past the Spartans and allowed Duke to live for another afternoon in this NCAA tournament. Without Thornton's steady hand, Duke loses.
Seth Curry was fantastic, scoring a game-high 29 points. As great scorers are wont to do, Curry's baskets came in bursts, with three of his half dozen long-range jumpers coming in a 2-minute span early in the second half that gave the Blue Devils an offensive lift, albeit just a three-point lead. But, Curry's three-point barrage established Duke's offense, and freshman slasher Rasheed Sulaimon helped out with 13 second-half points, two on driving lay ups and the rest from the free throw line.
The Blue Devils played one of the most savvy games you'll ever see from a college team. Ryan Kelly's jump shot is locked somewhere along Interstate 40, but he still had a positive impact on the game. Kelly played incredible defense, blocking four shots, changing several others and pulling down seven rebounds as Duke held their own against a Michigan State team with a reputation for domination in that department. Mason Plumlee was very good as well, with 14 points, seven rebounds and strong defense against Spartans bruiser Derrick Nix.
And yes, Duke was spectacular defensively against the Spartans. In the first 16 1/2 minutes of the second half, Michigan State converted just three field goals while turning it over seven times. It's really hard to win a game with those numbers, and conversely, it's really hard to lose a game when it's your defense that was the impetus for that performance.
Tyler Thornton, not surprisingly, was part of that effort. Defense is normally how he makes his biggest contributions to the cause. But, against Michigan State, Thornton expanded his own repertoire to include the role of shepherd. Without him, and his guidance against Michigan State, there's just no way the Blue Devils would have found their way to the Elite Eight and the rematch with Louisville.
It was simply the best three-point performance you'll ever see.