Duke’s to-do list: Everything better

February 6, 2013 

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N.C. State forward Richard Howell (1) and Duke Blue Devils forward Mason Plumlee (5) race for a loose ball in the second half. N.C. State upset Duke 84-76 at the PNC Arena Saturday Jan.12, 2013.

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lkeeley@newsobserver.com

When asked about Thursday’s 9 p.m. “revenge” game with N.C. State, Duke guard Quinn Cook dismissed that notion.

“That was our first game without Ryan (Kelly), so we were just adjusting,” he said, referencing the Jan. 8 right foot injury that has kept Kelly out since then. “Since Jan. 12, we’re a different team than we were then. We’ve gotten better from that point.”

No. 4 Duke (19-2, 6-2 in the ACC) has learned a lot, too. Sure, the beatdown at Miami exposed many weaknesses – “they were glaring,” Mason Plumlee said – but there are a few specific lessons the Blue Devils learned from the first game, an 84-76 loss, against the Wolfpack.

*Get back on defense.

It’s no secret that N.C. State likes to push the tempo. Realizing that and defending it, though, are two different things.

“You can’t really experience it until you get out there,” Seth Curry said. “We saw how fast it was as they were getting up and getting layups and making shots. We know what they’re about.”

The Wolfpack scored 22 points in transition in the last meeting (the Blue Devils, unlike some N.C. State opponents, were able to run, too, scoring 15 such points). Plumlee called that the biggest difference in the game, and, given the margin of the Wolfpack’s victory, that’s not easily disputed.

Regardless of what the Blue Devils’ defense does, the Wolfpack may be slowed down the court if point guard Lorenzo Brown can’t play. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski has called Brown the best transition guard in the country, and N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried has expressed doubts this week that Brown will be able to play after injuring his left ankle Jan 29 at Virginia. Duke is preparing for him to play.

*Defend the paint.

If it wasn’t Duke’s transition defense (or lack thereof) that was the difference last time, then it was the dominance of the Wolfpack’s frontcourt duo of Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie. Howell took over the game in the second half and finished with 16 points and 18 rebounds. Leslie added 25 points and six boards of his own.

Plumlee will once again draw Howell, and it will be imperative for Duke that he not get in foul trouble. Against Wake Forest, Plumlee was forced to back off on the defensive end after picking up a quick third foul early in the second half, and the Deacons were able to score a few easy layups.

“A lot of staying out of foul trouble is doing your work early on defense,” Plumlee said. “If you play behind, you have a greater chance of picking up fouls in the post. I just have to do my work early so I don’t get in positions where it is easer to call fouls on me.”

Duke reserve Josh Hairston is doubtful to play due to an infection in his right arm, further limiting the Blue Devils’ frontcourt depth. Amile Jefferson, who fouled out in 12 minutes in the last N.C. State game, will have to bring the defensive discipline he displayed at Florida State, where he played 29 foul-free minutes.

*Play together.

That was Krzyzewski’s response when asked what his team had to do differently this time.

“There’s not one thing that you can do,” he said. “They’re all really good players. They’ll put up good numbers. Hopefully they won’t put up the numbers they put up against us the first time.”

In review: get back on defense, defend the paint, play together, and maybe catch a break.

Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley

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