Duke basketball: No Kelly means more Plumlee, more Curry

lkeeley@newsobserver.comFebruary 2, 2013 

Duke Wake Forest Basketball

Duke's Mason Plumlee, center, fights through Wake Forest's Tyler Cavanaugh, left, and Arnaud William Adala Moto, right, for a shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013. Duke won 75-70. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)


— 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 Wednesday’s 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).

“They’re 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 couldn’t 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 don’t know if he’s the best player in the league, but there’s no player who’s more important to his team,” Krzyzewski said. “I think he might be the best player, but there’s not one who’s more important. We can’t, I mean there is no substitution for him.”

And when the Blue Devils weren’t 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, we’ve 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 hadn’t gotten any worse. But when asked after the game if his shin felt fine, Curry said, “not really.”

“I’m just fighting through it,” he said. “It’s still hurting. I’m 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, Duke’s starters were averaging an NCAA-best 69.6 points per game, 87 percent of the Blue Devils total scoring. In Kelly’s absence, that hasn’t really changed – the starters still average an NCAA-best 67.4 points per contest, or 86.3 percent of the team’s total scoring. Against Wake Forest, the starters scored 71 of Duke’s 75 points.

Krzyzewski has said all year that he’s most concerned with developing his starters, and, while Amile Jefferson, Josh Hairston have seen their minutes increase in Kelly’s 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

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