DURHAM — It took Duke until the opening minutes of the second half to play like the No. 1 team in the country, but once the clock started ticking on the final 20 minutes, the Blue Devils were unstoppable. Duke scored the first 19 points on the half to put the game out of reach in the 88-47 victory over Cornell. It was the Blue Devils most lopsided win of the year.
Youre a little rusty, you havent gone up against another opponent in a while, Ryan Kelly said, noting Duke hasn't played since Dec. 8. Once that switch went, we did some really good things.
Part of that switch flipping included playing better defense, which the Blue Devils were able to do starting about halfway through the opening period. The Big Red (4-7) was within single digits until the final minute of the opening half, when Mason Plumlee tap-in gave Duke an 11-point lead at the break. The Blue Devils quickly extended that once play resumed.
A 19-0 run pushed Dukes lead to 60-30 before Errick Peck hit a jumper with 13:31 left in the game. Up until his shot, Cornell was 0-for-10 from the floor to open the second half and also committed three turnovers in that span.
The second half, we were terrific, head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. Our guys were playing so hard and so together, it was just very difficult for them to score. It was a great second half.
Rasheed Sulaimon scored six of Dukes first 12 points in the second half and finished with 16 points. Seth Curry, who did not appear to be slowed on either end by his right shin, led Duke with 20 points. Mason Plumlee was a perfect 8-of-8 from the floor for 18 points (though he was 2-of-5 from the free throw line). His nine rebounds in 26 minutes marked the first time in four games he didnt pull down at least 10.
Quinn Cook set a new career-high in assists during the first minute of the second half and finished with 12 for the game, which went along with six points. He and Tyler Thornton combined for 17 assists and just one turnover. Defensively, the Blue Devils forced 26 turnovers, a season-high.
The Big Red was within two points of the Duke lead at 28-26 with five minutes remaining in the first half. The Blue Devils outscored the Big Red 48-8 over the next 15 minutes.
he game against Cornell was only Dukes third of the month of December and first since playing Temple in New Jersey on Dec. 8. During the 11-day break, the Blue Devils focused primarily on academics, taking final exams. In practice, the emphasis was on offensive spacing, execution and defensive rebounding. Despite not starting a player taller than 6-foot-8, Cornell did outrebound Duke 17-10 in the first half, and Josh Hairston grabbed the only offensive rebound. The Big Red finished with a slight advantage on the boards for the game, grabbing 35 rebounds to Dukes 30.
For the game, the Blue Devils shot 56.7 percent from the field, a season-high.
After waiting nearly a year and a half to make his Duke debut, Marshall Plumlee saw the floor for the first time this year, logging a rebound and blocked shot in two first-half minutes. Discomfort with the orthotic designed to protect his left foot prevented him from returning, as Duke kept him out as a precaution.
Something like that you get scared, because youre just coming back from an injury, Krzyzewski said. Its too bad, he would have had a lot of minutes tonight.
Every Duke player saw the floor, and former walk-on Todd Zafirovski scored three points, a career-high. Amile Jefferson led Dukes reserves with eight points in 16 minutes. Josh Hairston led Dukes reserve big men with 19 minutes.
The Blue Devils will be back on the court Thursday at 7 p.m. to play Elon (6-4) in the final game before their holiday break.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley