Mason Plumlee adds balance to Blue Devils' attack

acarter@newsobserver.comFebruary 8, 2013 

— Duke began its rematch with N.C. State on Thursday with Rasheed Sulaimon’s three-point play, and then a Sulaimon 3-pointer, and another from Seth Curry. The Blue Devils’ 98-85 victory was a show, early, and Duke’s perimeter players orchestrated it and starred in it.

From his position down low, in the paint, Mason Plumlee at times took it all in.

“We hit everything,” Plumlee, Duke’s senior forward, said. “Rasheed started with an and-one. Then he hit a step back. And then Seth hit 3s, Quinn hit 3s – everything was just (clicking). We came out of the half with 58 points. That’s like an NBA team.”

It was. Eventually, though, the outside shots stopped falling. They couldn’t last forever. Duke’s 10 3-pointers all came in the first half. While Duke’s perimeter game eventually cooled, Plumlee never did.

He scored 15 points in the first half, when he made all five of his attempts from the field. He added 15 more during the second half, when his steady contributions helped squash the Wolfpack’s feeble attempts to rally from a hole that proved far too deep.

Plumlee finished with 30 points and nine rebounds, and he was kind of dominant force on Thursday that he wasn’t in Raleigh, when the Blue Devils and Wolfpack played for the first time on Jan. 12. N.C. State won that game, and won it in part because it limited Plumlee to just 15 points on 10 shots from the field.

He only took one more on Thursday night, but his aggression helped him get often get to the free throw line, where he made 12 of his 16 attempts. The first time these teams met, it was N.C. State’s C.J. Leslie who played best on the interior. His 25 points led the Wolfpack to an 84-76 victory.

Plumlee and Duke held Leslie to 16 points on Thursday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“I’ve known C.J. since high school,” Plumlee said with a grin on Thursday night. “He’s one of the best athletes in the league. He’s a hungry scorer, so I always know it’s going be a good battle with him. He never lets me down.”

Guarding Leslie was a team effort for the Blue Devils, who used a variety of players, including freshman Amile Jefferson, to defend him. Leslie made seven of his 10 attempts from the field, but the Blue Devils limited his scoring opportunities.

“He’s a really talented player, and you just try to slow him down, play physical,” Jefferson said. “Me and (Duke forward Alex Murphy) really tried to make him work and play team defense – not getting into a one-on-one battle, one-on-one thing, and just make him take tough shots.”

On the other end, the Wolfpack didn’t provide much help against Plumlee, who rarely had to maneuver around or through a double team. N.C. State didn’t double-team Plumlee last month, either, but Plumlee on Thursday seemed more prepared to take advantage of one-on-one matchups.

Duke didn’t make a 3-pointer during the second half, but Plumlee maintained his shooting touch on the interior. He made four of six shots from the field during the second half, and was 7-of-10 from the line during the final 20 minutes.

“They didn’t really double me, so it was one-on-one in the post,” he said. “And especially, once they got in foul trouble you can really go at guys.”

So that’s what Plumlee did. It was the second time in three games that Plumlee scored at least 30 points.

“I think he’s playing as well as anybody in the country, really,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Plumlee. “His moves in inside are really beautiful, because he’s playing through contact. Instead of taking a hook, he is feeling the defense. Whenever he passes the ball it is such a weapon.

“He was a man. He was a great player tonight.”

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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