Through the first four minutes of Duke’s 74-63 loss to Kentucky, Marshall Plumlee battled the Wildcats to a 9-9 tie.
Plumlee was Duke’s offense, in its entirety, early on, putting back four Duke misses for makes and completing one three-point play at the free-throw line. Through the 20 minutes in the first half Tuesday, which ended with overmatched Duke down just 37-31, Plumlee had a team-high 11 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in 19 minutes.
This was from a player who entered the year with these career-highs in points (12), rebounds (10), blocks (four) and minutes (24). By the end of the game, Plumlee had tied or surpassed all of them.
“Marshall has been playing well all the way up to this point,” junior guard Matt Jones said. “So for him to go out there and start the game the way that he did, it wasn’t a surprise to me. If anything, I was happy for him. Obviously I wish we could have matched his intensity early, but we didn’t.”
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Plumlee and fellow frontcourt starter Amile Jefferson, also a senior, combined for 54 percent of Duke’s points in the first half, and Jefferson and Jones led the Blue Devils for the game with 16 points apiece (granted, half of Jefferson’s came in the final 3:40, after the Wildcats had an insurmountable 16-point lead).
While it’s great that Plumlee and Jefferson played so well, effectively neutralizing the Wildcats’ NBA-type talent on the boards, the Blue Devils will not be successful this year if those two are the primary source of offense.
Marshall has been playing well all the way up to this point. So for him to go out there and start the game the way that he did, it wasn’t a surprise to me. If anything, I was happy for him. Obviously I wish we could have matched his intensity early, but we didn’t.
Duke’s Matt Jones
That burden – or opportunity – falls to Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard primarily, and Jones and reserve point guard Derryck Thornton secondarily. All three – Allen, Ingram and Kennard – struggled mightily, but none more than Allen, who attempted to drive time and time again on Kentucky’s shot blockers without success.
Nine straight prayers off of the glass from drives forced wide right of the paint missed, and Allen finished with six points on 2-for-11 shooting. He also slipped and committed a turnover right before the end of the first half that resulted in an easy Isaiah Briscoe basket to put the Wildcats up by six, essentially a four-or-five point swing as Duke could have cut the deficit to as low as one.
“Ridiculously bad,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
“None of our guys were the prime-time players last year,” Krzyzewski said, referring to Plumlee, Jefferson, Jones and Allen. “The four guys coming back were really good, and they are good, and they’re better now. But when you’re put in a position where you are the man, where you have to do it, it’s different. It’s different. You’ve got to learn to do that, and hopefully we’ll be able to do that.”
Undoubtedly, Wednesday’s feedback session with coaches wasn’t pleasant for the Blue Devils players. But that’s when learning takes place, and Duke (2-1) will have an opportunity to show what lessons it has learned when it faces Virginia Commonwealth (2-0) Friday night on another big stage: Madison Square Garden.
The Rams don’t have the length and talent of Kentucky – no other team Duke plays this year will – but still, it will be interesting to see whether Allen still attempts to diversify from his barrel drive down the right side, right outside the paint and whether Duke’s frontcourt can be as active on the glass.
Learning is the key word for the Blue Devils so far at the early point in the season. How fast that happens will go a long way in determining how successful the Blue Devils become.
No. 5 Duke vs. VCU
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York