DURHAM — Right from the start, the win over Maryland was different for Duke.
When the referee threw up the ball to begin the game, Mason Plumlee didn't even jump, and Alex Len easily directed it the Terrapins way. Plumlee ran back, with the rest of the Blue Devils, and set up the defense.
That wasn't a mistake -- that was Duke's plan.
"We knew it was going to be a defensive game, and we wanted to come out and get a step right away and let them feel us," Plumlee said.
He had also told Amile Jefferson to take a charge, and that almost came truebut Jefferson was called for a block instead.
But overall, the defensive effort was much better than it had been in Miami, after giving up a season-high in points (90) and field goal shooting percentage (56.9 percent), the Blue Devils limited Maryland to 41.7 percent shooting from the floor and 64 points.
Duke also forced 14 Maryland turnovers, doing so on 21.5 percent of the Terps possessions.
We just really had to get back to playing Duke basketball, fight and starting with defense, Rasheed Sulaimon said. I thought we took a major step in the right direction today.
***The fact that Duke was outrebounded by the Terrapins wasnt a huge surprise. Maryland entered the game with the seventh-best offensive rebounding percentage in the country, at 39.8 percent (meaning they grab approximately 39.8 percent of available offensive rebounds).
Against Duke, that percentage was slightly higher. Of the 40 available rebounds off of Maryland misses, the Terrapins pulled down 17 of them, or 42.8 percent. In the first half, Maryland pulled down 12 of their 24 misses (50 percent), and only trailed by eight.
When we started rebounding their offensive boards, thats when we got the lead, head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
And he was right. In the second half, Duke did a better job rebounding Marylands misses, as the Terrapins were limited to five offensive rebounds and a 35.7 percent offensive rebounding percentage.
For the game, Charles Mitchell, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound freshman forward, pulled down six offensive boards (and seven total), Dez Wells had four apiece on the offensive and defensive glass, and the 7-foot-1 Len had 10 total rebounds, with two on the offensive end.
One of Dukes solutions to the rebounding mismatch was to attempt to pick up the tempo. And while the final stat sheet only credited Duke with eight fast-break points, the Blue Devils took noticeably less time to set up their offense. Many of Sulaimons 3s, for instance, were either catch and shoot or made as he pulled up after he arrived down the floor.
First, though, Duke had to secure the rebound.
Well run if we get the ball, Krzyzewski said. If our perimeter gets the rebound, then we will have a numerical advantage on the other end. Thats what happens. But getting a rebound is the thing. But weve never been opposed to running.
***Offensively, Krzyzewski said that his team got back to taking Duke shots against the Terrapins. The team shot 52.4 percent from the floor (after shooting 29.7 percent against Miami), and, in a measurement of what have historically been Duke shots, 50 percent from 3-point range (11-for-22).
You have to see the ball go in the basket, especially when youre young, Krzyewski said, referencing the Blue Devils without Ryan Kelly. Were a younger team now, and you have to see the ball go in.
And the youngest Blue Devils stepped up on the offensive end. Sulaimon scored a career-high 25 points (and shot 6-of-8 from 3-point range), and Jefferson had 11 points. The two combined for 36 points, the a freshmen duo had scored in an ACC game since Kyle Singler (17 points) and Nolan Smith (21 points) combined for 38 points against Wake Forest on Feb. 17, 2008.
Jefferson was aggressive early, getting to the free throw line nine times in the first half. That was three more times than the entire Maryland team.
He played really strong, Mason Plumlee said of Jefferson. For a skinny guy, its not like hes the strongest guy going to the basket, but he goes strong and good things happen.
He was outweighed by about 60 pounds, Krzyzewski said of the 6-foot-8, 195 pound Jefferson.
It was actually 75 pounds against Shaquille Cleare (6-foot-9, 265 pounds), his initial defensive assignment.
***Duke started to find its offensive rhythm for the first time since Kellys injury. The team recorded a season-high 4.5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and topped 80 points for the first time since Kelly was hurt. Over the first three games without Kelly (a loss at N.C. State, a win over Georgia Tech, and a loss at Miami), the Blue Devils were averaging 70 points per game, about 10 points less than when Kelly was in the lineup. Assists were down during that stretch, too (11.6 vs. 16.1).
This is our first step to becoming who were going to be now, Krzyzewski said of the Maryland win. Were obviously a different team without Ryan, and we have to play like we wont have him. I think we will have him at some time, but we have to figure out who we are without him.
Kelly still remains out indefinitely.
Complicating Dukes search for a new offensive identity is the fact that Seth Curry hardly practices, making it tougher to insert anything new. Krzyzewski estimated that Curry has missed 45-46 of Dukes 65 practices, meaning hes only practicing about 30 percent of the time. The coaches chose to pull Curry early from the Miami game Wednesday (because it was over long before the final buzzer), and, because of that, he practiced Thursday.
I think it really helped us," Krzyzewski said of that decision. "Any time he can practice that day, were going to get better than if he didnt practice."
Curry, who was 0-of-10 against Miami for zero points, still didn't look quite like himself against Maryland, shooting 5-of-14 for 13 total points. At times, he hesitated to shoot, and some of his shots missed badly, which is unusual for the typically sharp-shooting Curry.
***Another new injury to watch: Plumlee said after the Maryland game that he tore a ligament in his thumb late in the Miami game. He had it taped and was wearing a plate to try to protect it, and he downplayed its significance.
"Its fine," he said. "Guys play with broken thumb."
It didnt appear to bother him, especially in the second half. Plumlee scored 15 points in the second half and displayed a much-improved shot selection, finishing 9-for-12 from the floor. Krzyzewski said the second half was as good as half as Plumlee has played all season.
And, of course, Plumlees thumb didnt impede his ability to throw down that no-look, behind-the-back slam that was Sports Centers top play Saturday. Check out the video up top if you didnt already. And yes, Plumlee did get a technical for swatting the ball out of Jake Layman's hands.
"I thought I was being slick, and they wouldn't notice" Plumlee said with a laugh. "But I was wrong."
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