Marshall Plumlee had four dunks, Grayson Allen hit a floater and added a blocked shot and Matt Jones drew a BeeJay Anya foul behind the arc that left Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried burying his head in his hands.
It was that kind of first half for No. 2 Duke.
The first 20 minutes of the 77-53 victory over the Wolfpack in the ACC tournament were a clinic in efficiency – 49 points in 28 possessions (1.75 points per possession).
“The first half was way beyond our expectations,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Let’s put it that way.”
And it wasn’t just the usual cast of characters doing the damage – reserves Plumlee and Allen contributed 23 total points. The duo also played 42 minutes, giving guys like Jahlil Okafor valuable rest time in what could be a three-day tournament for the Blue Devils, ending with a spot in Saturday night’s final. Plumlee actually played two more minutes than Okafor.
“Grayson is a good player,” N.C. State’s Trevor Lacey said. “I wouldn’t say we would sleep on Grayson. But Plumlee, we’ll try to force Plumlee to score more.
“But how hard is it to catch and dunk the ball, you know? Seven foot, we didn’t make it hard for him. You have to give him credit. He plays with energy and they don’t put him in positions where he’s uncomfortable.”
Justise Winslow, who had 10 points last time these teams played in Raleigh, gave Duke a 5-0 lead before the game was two minutes old. He, Quinn Cook and Okafor paced Duke to a 20-9 lead before turning the game over to Allen and Plumlee.
Plumlee tied his career high in points during the first half alone, finishing with a slam on four occasions, with a backdoor finish, and an ally-oop off of an inbounds lob from Tyus Jones the most highlight-reel worthy of the bunch. A fifth flush midway through the second half gave Plumlee his first 10-point game (a sixth made it a dozen for the game).
Gottfried was forced to burn his first timeout with 12 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first half, after Allen dribbled into the lane and kissed a floater off the glass like it was something he has done all season. The freshman, who ended the regular season with a career-high 27 points against Wake Forest, is playing his best basketball just in time for the postseason.
“I’m finally just playing like the player that I was, and the player that they recruited me to be here,” Allen said. “I think I might have been putting too much pressure on myself at the beginning of the year, and now it’s just going out there and playing.”
Allen added a jumper and a 3-pointer to give him seven first-half points, but his most impressive moment came on the defensive end. N.C. State point guard Cat Barber – he who scored 34 points in the previous night’s win against Pittsburgh – went in for a layup, but Allen elevated to swat his attempt away. Barber finished with zero points in the first half, missing all seven of his shots. A nasty collision on a screen from Amile Jefferson that Barber didn’t see coming knocked him out of the game during the second half.
Allen finished with 11 points, with a two-handed dunk on a backdoor cut providing the exclamation point.
If the Blue Devils are going to get contributions like that from Plumlee and Allen during the postseason, they are going to an exceptionally tough out in the NCAA tournament.
N.C. State had been a trendy dark horse pick to win the ACC tournament, coming into the rematch with Duke having won six of its past seven games, including an impressive win at North Carolina. And the Wolfpack had played one of its best games Jan. 11 against the Blue Devils, dealing Duke its first loss of the season, 87-75. And there was a revenge factor, Matt Jones said.
This game in the ACC tournament quarterfinals was nothing like the first one.
For one, a more effective Winslow makes Duke a different team, more effective at both ends of the floor. And if reserves Plumlee and Allen can give the Blue Devils quality minutes, depth won’t be as big of a concern.
The goal for Duke all season has been postseason success. That mission started swimmingly Thursday night.