ATLANTA — In a matchup with March Madness-level intensity, Duke showed Tuesday night why it needs all three of its seniors to be successful.
The trio of Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry combined to score the Blue Devils first 28 points in a 75-68 victory over No. 3 Kentucky. Kelly had consecutive blocks on shots by Alex Poythress in the first half, which featured no lead larger than six points.
Kyle Wiltjer, who was guarded by Kelly, finished with just five points and three rebounds after recording 19 points and six boards in Kentuckys season-opener. Kelly finished with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting hes yet to find his shot this season but his defensive contributions, with three blocks and three steals, were invaluable.
Curry finished with 23 points, the second-highest total in his Duke career (he scored 26 against N.C. State last season). Fourteen of those points came in the second half. Curry scored six points in the final 2 minutes, 4 seconds of the game, four on free throws and two on a key lay-up in traffic that made it a two-possession game at 68-63.
The ability to drive through the lane and finish in traffic is a new element to Currys game.
I thought Seths play was the key factor, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. One thing hes added to his game, hes not just a shooter, hes a scorer. Hes got little herky-jerky moves that, when he keeps good balance hes got a way of making a guy commit. Really, not many people can do that.
For the second time in three seasons, Dukes fate rests on an injured body part. Remember Kyrie Irvings big toe on his right foot from 2010-11? Well, now its Currys right shin. The injury has limited him to spot work in just four practices this year.
Im shocked at his level of conditioning, that hes been able to do that, Krzyzewski said of Currys success.
Currys experience as a fifth-year senior helps. Only a seasoned veteran could get away with not practicing and carrying a team in a huge game.
Coach did a good job of getting me in and out of the game, he said. Certain periods allowed me to get rest and be fresh for the end of the ball game. I did a good job of trying to stay sharp with my limited practice time, work on my ball handling, stuff like that. My teammates also did a good job of finding me early in the game. I havent really been around them as much as I usually am in practice, so they did a good job of finding me in certain situations early in the game, which got me going with some open shots. That was key.
Plumlee, battling against Nerlens Noel and Poythress, was particularly effective on offense, going 7-of-8 from the floor and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line for 18 points. Defensively, though, he ran into foul trouble, picking up his fourth foul with 16:04 remaining in the game, sending him to the bench.
The fourth one was such a terrible foul, Plumlee said of his foul on Noel at the top of the key, well outside his effective range.
Plumlee sat for six minutes, but Duke extended its lead from six to 12 points. According to Basketball Prospectuss John Gasaway, Plumlee is averaging exactly 5.0 fouls per 40 minutes of action. Simply put, Duke cannot afford for Plumlee to be on the bench with excessive fouls.
So, how did Duke extend its lead without Plumlee? They spaced the floor and relied on the jump shot.
I told the guys we had more spacing with Mason out, so we could drive it and kick it and things like that, Curry said. When I got to into the lane, I knew Noel would try to come over and block it up and block shots and things like that, so I was just trying to get it up on the rim.
Four of the points scored in that span came as a result of Josh Hairston scoring off of offensive rebounds he collected. Hairston finished with a team-high four offensive rebounds. For comparisons sake, Plumlee had three rebounds all defensive total.
Josh Hairstons play was really critical, Krzyzewski said. His offensive rebound buckets were really big.
Praising Cook: Krzyzewski offered unsolicited praise of Quinn Cook after the game.
In the first half, Quinn Cook really gave us a will, he said. We scored in transition. It was difficult for us to score in the half court in the first half. We got some rebounds, and he really pushed the ball up the court and got some early 3s and got us to the foul line.
Cook played 30 minutes, shot 3-of-5 from the field for seven points, and recorded three assists and two turnovers. He is the more offensively minded option, over Tyler Thornton, to run Dukes offense. But, in light of Currys injury, Krzyzewski prefers to start Thornton for defensive purposes.
Having [Seth] start out, and then Tyler usually gets the toughest defensive assignment, and Rasheed (Sulaimon)s been playing really well, Krzyzewski said. Thats a good way to do it. Youre not going to do anything with Ryan or Mason. Quinn would be like a sixth starter. Or he could start, maybe start the second half. He really asserted himself. Hes had a great week of practice, and he has to keep building on it.
Plumlee said after the game that the coaching staff was not pleased with Cooks performance in the two exhibition games, which is the last time he started.
Quinn gave us such a lift in the first half, and thats how the coaches want him to play, he said. I know they were getting on him a little bit after the exhibitions, and I think he responded really well. Now he just cant look back, hes got to keep playing the way he can play.
|No. 9 DUKE 75, No. 3 KENTUCKY 68|
Percentages: FG .456, FT .682. 3-Point Goals: 8-18, .444 (Curry 3-5, Sulaimon 3-7, Cook 1-2, Kelly 1-3, Thornton 0-1). Team Rebounds: 4. Blocked Shots: 6 (Kelly 3, Mas. Plumlee 2, Curry). Turnovers: 8 (Mas. Plumlee 5, Cook 2, Thornton). Steals: 6 (Kelly 3, Thornton, Mas. Plumlee, Curry). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .490, FT .667. 3-Point Goals: 4-10, .400 (Wiltjer 1-2, Poythress 1-2, Goodwin 1-2, Mays 1-4). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 4 (Noel 3, Goodwin). Turnovers: 13 (Mays 4, Goodwin 4, Poythress 2, Cauley-Stein, Polson, Noel). Steals: 4 (Noel 4). Technical Fouls: None.
Att.22,847. OfficialsTony Greene, Mike Eades, Roger Ayers.