Annual trek to neighborly North has been kind to Duke

lkeeley@newsobserver.comDecember 8, 2012 

— It’s time for Duke’s annual trip North.

Since the 2001, the Blue Devils have played a December game in New York or New Jersey every season. This year is no exception, as the No. 2 Blue Devils (8-0) will face Temple (6-0) at 3:15 p.m. in East Rutherford, N.J. at the Izod Center.

“There are a lot of Duke fans up in New York City,” associate head coach Chris Collins said on his weekly radio show. “That game has been very good to us.”

Many of the fans in the area are alumni. . Since the Blue Devils started going North on a yearly basis, they are 10-1 in neutral site games in that area. The lone loss came in 2007 when Pittsburgh’s Levance Fields hit a 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left in overtime to beat Duke 65-64.

Notable Duke wins up North include a 76-41 win over then-No. 15 Gonzaga in 2009, an 18-point win over then-No.7 Xavier in 2008 and, in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, a 97-66 win over No. 2 Texas in 2005.

This year’s opponent, Temple, is off to its best start since the 1987-88 season, and, like Duke, features three senior starters in guards Khalif Wyatt and forwards Scootie Randall and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson. The Owls have yet to face a ranked opponent, and only two of their wins have come over teams with non-losing records (Kent State, Villanova).

The Blue Devils long ago learned that past results aren’t an accurate predictor of future success.

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that teams play us different,” Mason Plumlee said. “They have their best game against us. They’ll shoot the ball better, they play harder, and it always works like that. A lot of times, even watching film on teams isn’t relevant. They aren’t going to be the same team once you play them.”

Duke learned that lesson firsthand last year when unranked Temple pulled off a stunning 78-73 of the then-No. 5 Blue Devils. That game, along with the loss to Ohio State last year, were two examples of Duke losing the physical battle on the perimeter, Collins said.

Of course, this year’s Duke team is different. Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook are new editions to the starting lineup, and both have been invaluable contributors. Sulaimon averages 12.9 points per game and adds length to Duke’s perimeter defense, and Cook has led the offense since his strong play off the bench in the Kentucky game. During Duke’s trip to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, Cook was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

“People were surprised in the Kentucky game and they were surprised when he was the MVP in the Bahamas, but people aren’t surprised anymore,” Plumlee said of Cook. “We know what he’s going to bring.”

Duke also knows what the New York-New Jersey area will bring: a friendly, pro-Blue Devil crowd in the last major nonconference tune-up of the calendar year.

Keeley 919-829-4556

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