DURHAM — Rasheed Sulaimon had hit a wall after the holiday break. The freshman, who had been a constant presence for Duke on both sides of the ball, struggled to make shots and defend effectively.
And in the opening minutes of No. 1 Dukes 84-64 over Maryland, it appeared like his struggles may continue. Dez Wells, Suliamons defensive assignment, pulled down three offensive rebounds and scored his teams first seven points, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski took Sulaimon out and voiced his unhappiness.
He really got on me, Sulaimon said.
His response, though, couldnt have pleased his veteran coach more.
He did something that I think is so terrific, Krzyzewski said. He said, I got you, Coach, Ill do better. He just embraced responsibility. Anybody who embraces responsibility has a chance to do better.
Do better, Sulaimon did. He set a new personal-best for 3-pointers in the first 11 minutes of the game and went 5-for-5 from deep in the first half. The freshman ended with a career-best 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting.
The coaches had encouraged all the Blue Devils (17-2, 4-2 in the ACC) to take their shots, and, if they had a good look, dont think if it as their shot, but as the teams shot. Sulaimon took that message to heart.
Every time I touched it, if I had an open look, I just shot it, he said. Sometimes when it even felt off, it went in. It was just one of those days.
Sulaimon connected on his first six attempts from deep, going a perfect 5-for-5 in the first half, which ended with Duke leading 43-35. His first three 3s came within a two-minute span. His first one came on the left side off of a pass from Cook, and it swished through despite a foul by Marylands Peshon Howard. Sulaimon converted the four-point play, the first of his college career, and Duke led 18-13.
After a Maryland 3 from Nick Faust, Sulaimon swished two more 3s, taking little time to stop and shoot in rhythm. Maryland called timeout, and Dukes first basket after the break was yet another Sulaimon 3.
Sulaimon also fed his teammates well, setting up an Amile Jefferson basket just before the end of the half with a transition pass from the perimeter down to the block. Jefferson finished with nine first-half points and recorded 11 total, along with nine rebounds. More importantly, though, the freshman was only whistled for three fouls, demonstrated improvement from his previous two games.
Hes going to be an outstanding player here, Krzyzewski said. Hes got a 7-(foot)-1 wingspan. Hes getting stronger. Were not going to see who he is this year completely, but as a result of being given the opportunity to play, his growth will be faster because hes got this opportunity. All the guys love playing with him.
As a team, Duke shot 11-of-22, 50 percent, from 3-point range. Mason Plumlee used better shot selection and finished 9-of-12 for 19 points and played what Krzyzewski thought was one of his best halves all year in the final 20 minutes.
In the locker room after the game, the Blue Devils were all smiles, a scene that was completely opposite of the one Wednesday in Miami, when a few stupefied players stood outside the locker room struggling to explain how the team had lost by nearly 30.
You really see the character of a team when they face adversity, especially the adversity we faced Wednesday at Miami, Sulaimon said. It was very important for us to be men and step up to the challenge and flush Wednesdays game.
Maryland (15-5, 3-4) never pulled closer than seven in the second half. The Cameron Crazies serenaded the Terrapins, who have agreed to move to the Big Ten conference, with a few notable cheers late in the game: ACC, Not our rivals, and Dont come back.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley