Blue Devils quick to adapt

ntaylor@newsobserver.comNovember 28, 2011 

— Duke's basketball players have learned a lot about themselves seven games into this season. That was the team consensus after the undefeated Blue Devils won its fifth Maui Invitational title Wednesday night.

Players talk about momentum, and for sixth-ranked Duke, they suggested the energy from the tournament in Hawaii returned with them.

That's what three wins in three days can do.

"When you're in fights like that and you come out on top, you learn about yourself," said sophomore Tyler Thornton, who hit two 3-pointers to push Duke to a 68-61 win over Kansas. "I think we learned we could play tough."

But momentum can change quickly, and the Blue Devils' nonconference schedule offers another test this week. Duke (7-0) will play its first road game Tuesday night against No. 3 Ohio State (6-0) in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup (9:30 p.m., ESPN).

Duke freshman Austin Rivers said last week's tournament made Duke a different team, a group that had to evolve quickly under pressure against established programs.

"We have confidence, and we believe we're one of the top teams," Rivers said. "We grew so much (in Maui). Everybody is more together."

In order to remain undefeated, Duke will have to limit Ohio State sophomore forward Jared Sullinger. The 6-foot-9 preseason All-American is averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds.

"You have to stay between him and the basket," Mason Plumlee said of Sullinger. "He's a good free-throw shooter, so you can't bail him out with fouls, either."

"Last year, we could just give the ball to Kyrie (Irving) and Nolan (Smith), and basically we just played off those two guys," Thornton said. "This year, we have to use each other a lot more."

Rivers now realizes coach Mike Krzyzewski used the tournament to prepare the Blue Devils for its next challenge: beating their third Big Ten opponent.

"I think if we could beat Ohio State, that would take our confidence to a whole different level," Rivers said. "It would be huge."

Taylor: 919-829-4538

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