Oftentimes at night, Marshall Plumlee finds himself tuning into NBA TV and watching the Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers. More specifically, he’s watching his older brothers, Miles and Mason.
“A lot of their strengths, I know I’m capable of doing some of the things they’re doing,” Marshall said, using sound logic based in genetics. “So, I try to see how they play and how can I emulate that.”
Plumlee had the best week of his career, and it culminated in a career-high 21-point, 10 rebound performance in Duke’s 82-58 win over Virginia Tech. Plumlee went 6 for7 from the floor and 9 for 10 from the free-throw line. Combine that with his numbers from Wednesday night’s win at Wake Forest, and his week went like this: 13 for 14 from the field, 13 of 14 from the free-throw line, 39 points and 17 rebounds.
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He capped his day Saturday with a basket that came via a sky hook that bounced hard off the backboard and through the hoop. It was just that kind of day for the Blue Devils, where every bounce went their way. Duke made seven 3-pointers in the first seven minutes and never led by fewer than 21 in the second half.
“Marshall was sensational,” Krzyzewski said. “I am so proud of him. You continue to get more confidence through accomplishments.”
That sentiment was echoed throughout the locker room.
“I’m so proud of him,” Grayson Allen said. “He’s like my big brother. I’m like a little brother to him.”
As Duke has adjusted to a four-guard lineup, Plumlee has benefitted. Duke’s guards, specifically Allen, Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard, command most of the defense’s attention. Often, Plumlee’s man comes to help on one of Duke’s guards in a pick-and-roll situation, and that lets him slip undetected behind the defense and near the basket. The guards have done a better job of spotting this recently. And when Plumlee gets the ball near the basket, he has been finishing strong with a slam.
Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams attributed most of Plumlee’s scoring success to the Hokies’ inability to stay with Duke’s guards.
“I think the six baskets he scored, five of the six were dunks,” he said. “I don’t think it was our big guy on any of those, other than an offensive rebound. Our guards couldn’t guard their guards, and they forced rotation and he scored today the same way he did when he had eight dunks at Wake. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”
The better Plumlee plays, the more confident he becomes. It’s a positive feedback loop, and his teammates have noticed.
“He’s playing with the ultimate confidence,” Matt Jones said. “He’s talking. He’s being aggressive, and I feel like he’s in a good place mentally. Guys are in his corner, and he feels that and is feeding off of it.”
When Plumlee came off of the floor toward the end of Wake Forest game, Krzyzewski grabbed Plumlee’s face in his hands and told him he was proud of him.
“Coach just believes in all of us, and that feeling just makes you feel like you can take on the world, makes you smile, makes you feel great,” Plumlee said then.
And Plumlee responded with his career day against Virginia Tech.
As he sat in the locker room afterward trying to explain his recent improvement, Plumlee credited his teammates and the defensive attention they command. He credited his coaches. And he credited his brothers. The three of them have a group text, and Plumlee said they all exchange calls from time to time, too. And he keeps up with Miles most often over Xbox Live.
When asked what the most helpful piece of advice they had given him was, Plumlee paused.
“They just believe in me.”