DURHAM — After getting back to the their winning ways against Maryland, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said his Blue Devils had taken the first step toward finding their new identity. The second step will come Wednesday night at Wake Forest.
The No. 5 Blue Devils (17-2, 4-2 in the ACC) will face the Demon Deacons (10-9, 3-4) for the second time this year. On Jan. 5, Ryan Kelly scored a season-high 22 points and hit 5 of 7 3-pointers as Duke dispatched the young Deacons 80-62. But there wont be a repeat of that performance, as Kelly has been out indefinitely since Jan. 9 with a right foot injury.
Duke has struggled without him, losing road games to top-tier ACC competition in N.C. State and Miami and winning in less-than-dominant fashion against visiting Georgia Tech. But against the Terrapins, the Blue Devils found their offensive rhythm, shooting 52.4 percent and recording a season-best 4.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Without Kelly and the space a 6-foot-11, 3-point shooter creates on the floor, the Blue Devils have had to turn to other methods to get shooters open.
Now we have to have more attention to detail on setting your man up, setting screens, working together to get shots, Krzyzewski said of the plan for the current group. That was the best weve done thus far in doing that, even when we had Ryan, because we have to do it better. Hopefully well continue to build on that.
Setting more screens has been the plan since the N.C. State game, the first Duke played without Kelly. Against the Terrapins, the Blue Devils executed it.
The ball went to the post, and we made mistakes, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said and then pointed out a specific example. One, they ran a nice play. Set a good screen on Logan (Aronhalt). Logan shouldnt have been screened if he was in the right spot. So we made some defensive mistakes that helped them.
Mason Plumlee, an able screener and passer, recorded three assists against Maryland. All three led to 3-point baskets one was on Dukes first field goal, from Quinn Cook, the second was on Rasheed Sulaimons third 3 in less than two minutes, and, toward the end of the first half, a final helper on a Seth Curry 3 that pushed Dukes lead to seven.
One takeaway from the Miami debacle was that Plumlee needed to be more vocal on both ends of the floor. Kelly had been Dukes most vocal captain, and, without him, the coaching staff has turned to Plumlee.
Coach just wants me to talk. He wants me to talk a lot, Plumlee said. Hes like, you need to speak up more and be more vocal any time youre around the team and on the court, especially. I need to do that going forward.
Duke needs consistency with Plumlee, especially with two freshmen (Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson) in the starting lineup along with point guard Cook, a sophomore, first-year starter. Age and experience bring road success, according to Krzyzewski. And for the Blue Devils to take the next step in finding their new identity, they need to start winning on the road.
There arent the great teams. There are some teams that can be somewhat better, but not necessarily ridiculously better than others in our conference, Krzyzewski said. Age has something to do with it. The older the team you have, the better chance you have for consistency both home and away because theyre older. They get it. In some respects, some of them become men. Theyre men by that time.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley