DURHAM — While Mike Krzyzewski has continued to evolve throughout his 38 years of coaching, he has known one thing since day one: get the ball to your best players.
At the beginning of the year, that meant feeding seniors Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly as often as possible. And with Kelly sidelined since Jan. 9 with a right foot injury one that those close to the program expect will keep him out until at least late February the game plan has shifted slightly to getting the ball to Plumlee and Curry.
The duo scored 71 percent of the Blue Devils points in Wednesdays victory at Wake Forest. Look for No. 5 Duke (18-2, 5-2 in the ACC) to continue to feed the seniors Saturday at Florida State (12-8, 4-3).
Theyre our two best players, Quinn Cook said. Every play that we played, in the first half and second half, we tried to look for them.
When Wake Forest opted not to double-team Plumlee in the post, the Blue Devils worked the ball into him as often as possible in the first half. Plumlee poured in 19 points, a career-high for a half. And he barely left the floor in the second, as Duke just couldnt afford to take him out. When Plumlee drew his third foul within the first two minutes of the second half, he stayed him the game. Not even a fourth foul call with four minutes to go caused him to leave the floor, as the score was tied at 65.
In total, Plumlee played 19 second-half minutes and finished with a career-high 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting from the field and 8-of-10 from the free throw line.
I dont know if hes the best player in the league, but theres no player whos more important to his team, Krzyzewski said. I think he might be the best player, but theres not one whos more important. We cant, I mean there is no substitution for him.
And when the Blue Devils werent feeding Plumlee, they were running set plays designed to get open looks for Curry. He finished with 21 points, though he struggled with his shot: 7-for-17, including 1 of 6 beyond the 3-point line. That one, though, broke a 66-66 tie. It also came a few possessions after he missed two wide-open 3s.
At times young guys can not have much confidence on the road, so me and Mason, weve got to come out and set the tone, Curry said. And we did that.
Curry has managed his own right shin injury all season, and Krzyzewski said last week that it hadnt gotten any worse. But when asked after the game if his shin felt fine, Curry said, not really.
Im just fighting through it, he said. Its still hurting. Im just doing what it takes to get a win and worrying about the pain after the game.
Going into the Clemson game, the last game Kelly played, Dukes starters were averaging an NCAA-best 69.6 points per game, 87 percent of the Blue Devils total scoring. In Kellys absence, that hasnt really changed the starters still average an NCAA-best 67.4 points per contest, or 86.3 percent of the teams total scoring. Against Wake Forest, the starters scored 71 of Dukes 75 points.
Krzyzewski has said all year that hes most concerned with developing his starters, and, while Amile Jefferson, Josh Hairston have seen their minutes increase in Kellys absence, the starters still handle the vast majority of the scoring.
There is no rush to bring Kelly back his availability for the postseason is most important and the next step is for him to begin walking in his protective boot without crutches. In the interim, the Blue Devils will still focus the game plan on its seniors, just as they have all year.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley