PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Duke knew that Virginia Commonwealth would bring its trademark havoc defense, complete with a full court press and constant ball pressure.
What the Rams couldnt account for, though, was Dukes big men, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee, breaking the press.
On a night where both teams went through long scoring droughts, No. 5 Duke was able to beat VCU 67-58 to clinch a spot in Saturdays Battle 4 Atlantis championship. Duke hasnt lost a regular-season tournament game since the 2006 CBE Classic, a span of 22 games.
Theyve got good size, particularly with Plumlee and Kelly, VCU head coach Shaka Smart said. I thought those two guys were probably the key to breaking the press because they came back and handled the ball and didnt really get flustered against the pressure. I like the matchup of their guards against our guards, but I thought those big guys helped them quite a bit.
Kelly handled the inbounds passes for Duke, and the Rams didnt force a single turnover off of one of his throws. Plumlee would often hang in the backcourt as an outlet option, and he took the ball over midcourt several times, as the Rams big men matched on him werent proficient at guarding on the ball.
Two big guys, when theyre playing 80 and 94 feet from the bucket, and they can play that well with a total of two turnovers, thats outstanding, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. Im the most proud of how they handled all that.
As a team, Duke had just eight turnovers against VCUs havoc defense, which features full-court pressure and heavy ball pressure. The Rams even have HAVOC printed across the back of their warm-up shirts, and, coming into this game, had forced an average of 20 steals in each contest.
VCU also scored just six points off of the Duke turnovers.
The key to the game was not letting them score off of turnovers, Krzyzewski said. I thought our kids did a masterful job of handling their pressure.
Quinn Cook opened the second half with four consecutive assists, and Duke expanded its lead from one point to 11 in just over four minutes. After starting in the preseason, Cook had been benched due to his sloppy passing and attempts to create flashy plays. He has responded, though, with a string of solid games that dates back to Dukes win over Kentucky. In his third consecutive start, Cook recorded nine assiststying his career highagainst just three turnovers.
The Rams (3-2) chipped away at Dukes lead throughout the second half, and at the 9:18 mark, had closed the gap to 54-50, prompting Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski to call a timeout following a backdoor slam from Juvonte Reddic.
After the two teams traded possessions, Cook made a VCU defender fall thanks to a behind-the-back pass to Plumlee, and Plumlee found the cutting Cook for a lay-up to make it 56-50 Duke with 8:18 remaining.
Both teams went on long scoring droughts from the field after that bucket, but while Duke hit its free throwsthe Blue Devils were 19-of-21 from the line in the second halfthe Rams missed six in a row after cutting the deficit to six. Two of the misses came on the first attempt when they were in the bonus, eliminating the chance at a second shot.
VCU also went more than five minutes without a field goal until Rob Brandenberg put back an offensive rebound to cut Dukes lead to 58-52 with 4:04 remaining in the game. Brandenberg also ended VCUs drought from the free throw line with a pair to make it 60-54 Duke with 2:23 to go.
Duke, also, had a long field goal drought, but the Blue Devils kept hitting free throws. Successful free throws from Curry and Plumlee increased Dukes advantage, and, with 17.5 seconds remaining in the game, Plumlee slammed the ball home to end Dukes eight-minute field goal drought.
They were the better team, Smart said. They made more shots.