Tyler Thornton didn’t mince words after Duke’s 79-69 win when it came to Rasheed Sulaimon.
"As a man, he has to step up and accept what he needs to do," Thornton said. "We need him. That’s all I can really say about that."
When asked what Sulaimon needs to do better, Thornton declined to go into specifics.
"He knows what he needs to do, I don’t really want to speak on that," he said. "He have a week and a half until our next game. We have a lot of practice time. Hopefully we can get what we need out of him in that span."
It’s been a rather curious start to the season for Sulaimon, a returning starter and ACC all-freshman team selection last year. A starter for 33 of Duke’s 36 games, he averaged 11.6 points per game last year (just a smidgen under Quinn Cook’s 11.7) and 29.2 minutes. Consistently, he was hailed as the Blue Devil with the best ability to create off the dribble on last year’s team.
This year, both of those averages are down, as Sulaimon is averaging 7.1 points in 22.5 minutes. Tuesday night against Michigan, he didn’t play at all, the first DNP of his career. Mike Krzyzewski said after the season-opening win versus Davidson that Sulaimon “has not had a good fall” and is “finally in good shape.”
Andre Dawkins chalked up the decreases in Sulaimon’s numbers in part to increased competition in the backcourt.
"It’s basketball," Dawkins said. "I’ve had a DNP already this year. Everybody who plays the shooting guard, Matt (Jones), Sheed, myself, has had a DNP. That’s what happens when you have this deep of a team, sometimes guys just aren’t going to play. It doesn’t mean we don’t need him to be good or to help us out.
"He’s just got to get back to work in practice and try to get better."
It’s important to note that Sulaimon was not in the locker room while I was—otherwise I would have talked to him.
***Reversing course, perhaps the most positive development for Duke Tuesday night was the first indication that Marshall Plumlee could be a meaningful contributor to this year’s team. At 7-foot, Plumlee has enviable size, which is something Duke sorely lacks when he’s not out there. As noted in the game story, Plumlee played six minutes, but they were six incredibly meaningful minutes in which he pulled down three rebounds (two offensive) and scored two points (his other board resulted in two free throws, both of which he missed. If he’s like his brothers, that skill will improve slowly over time).
Speaking of his brothers, Plumlee credited them for helping him come to an important realization: when on the court, he needs to take a deep breath and calm down.
"it’s taken me awhile, but I think I’m finally figuring out how to calm down a little bit on the court. It’s tough at first, because it’s so exciting, you want to do so well," Plumlee said. "But if I really want to do well, I’m finding out now that I just have to take a deep breath and relax a little bit.
"The coaching staff has been working with me constantly, but I’d have to say in particular talking to my brothers, Miles and Mason, recently, they helped me adjust my mindset."
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski gave Plumlee a heads-up before the game that he would get an opportunity early. And Plumlee made the most of it.
"He’s a big piece for us, what we need," Jabari Parker said. "You can’t teach height. That’s one of the main advantages we have, we have Marshall Plumlee trying to get better, and he’ll be a big piece for us in the future."
***Sometimes there are lies, damned lies and statistics.
Duke’s 79-69 win against Michigan was never that close (check that link for the game story).
Statistically speaking, Duke’s lead was 100 percent safe with 1:59 left on the clock, as the Blue Devils were up 66-50. That means 28 percent of the Wolverines’ points—19 of 69—were scored in garbage time.
Let’s take a look at whose stats received the most artificial padding at the end:
Mitch McGary, 4-for-4, 8 points, 3 rebounds
Nik Stauskas, 0-for-0, 1-of-2 FT, 1 point
Zak Irvin, 1-for-3, 3 points
Caris LeVert, 1-for-2, 2-of-2 FT, 5 points
Glenn Robinson III, 1-for-1, 2 points
LeVert still carried an offensively-inept Michigan throughout, finishing with a career-high 24 points, and the 19 that came while the game was competitive still led the Wolverines. But McGary’s 15-point, 14-rebound double-double came long after his team had already lost. Subtracting out his garbage-time flurry, McGary went 2-of-6 from the field for 7 total points.
That brings Michigan’s field goal percentage from the first 28 minutes to 39.1 percent (18-of-46). As noted in the game story, Duke’s defense was, again, much improved, even though the final stats don’t fully reflect that.
Lies, damned lies and statistics.