Let me start by saying that Cameron Indoor Stadium was a shadow of itself in the Blue Devils’ 69-45 exhibition win over Winston Salem State on Thursday evening. And that atmosphere helped provide a backdrop for one of the worst three-point shooting performances by a Mike Krzyzewski coached team, as Duke shot a collective 1 of 17 from the three-point stripe.
The Blue Devils simply were not getting clean looks or, as Krzyzewski put it, players were not ready to catch and shoot. But the program that some feel can win only by hitting the three ball showed that defense could carry them as well. Leading just 18-9 in the first half, Duke went on a 16-1 run to take a commanding 36-13 lead into the locker room.
Duke coasted from there, but the visitors — who won their conference a season ago — played them even in the 2nd half, and that raised some eyebrows. Duke struggled finishing off some easy opportunities, and the fastbreak was less efficient than it normally is.
Before you push the panic button, keep in mind that Krzyzewski said his team was tired and would now take three days off before preparing for the season opener against Georgia State next Friday night. With successive games in the Battle of Atlantis just around the corner, it makes sense that he would have practiced his team hard in an effort to see how they’d respond on tired legs — which may have contributed to the 3-point shooting woes.
The bottom line is that this was an exhibition game, and the staff wanted to start pushing certain buttons as the season nears. And Krzyzewski made sure Seth Curry got some PT in an effort to shake the rust and see how he responds to his nagging injury.
There were two other things which caught my eye as well after viewing the Blue Devils for a second time this season. One was the fact that the true freshmen are ahead of where I thought they’d be. Rasheed Sulaimon has wasted no time getting acclimated at this level, averaging 16.0 ppg in the two contests. And then there is Amile Jefferson, who is at a 13.0 ppg and 4.0 rpg.
Sulaimon is a very active player who is playing within himself and not forcing the issue, committing just 2 turnovers per game. He has a good handle and can guard out front or as the lead pressure. Of Sulaimon, Krzyzewski said, “He is going to be a good player. Not a good one, a really good one.” And that bodes well for a team which lost Austin Rivers off of last year’s squad.
Jefferson has been very consistent in his play, prompting Krzyzewski to say, “Amile is that guy who doesn’t have a position. When he comes in the life meter goes up.”
But the most consistent player on the court for Duke was senior captain Mason Plumlee, who went 7 for 7 from the field against Winston Salem State. In the two exhibition games, Plumlee leads the Blue Devils in scoring at 20.5 ppg, while grabbing 10.5 boards per game.
When alluding to Mason’s stats in the post-game and reflecting on the win over Western Washington, Krzyzewski commented, “That’s who we think he is. (Plumlee). I think that is the norm, and I think he has the chance to have the pop in his game and go for more, so we like where he is.”
Plumlee has the potential to be an All-American this season, and his numbers in the exhibition games showed this to be a real possibility. Plumlee was very efficient near the bucket and his free throw shooting is better than a season ago, as so far he has hit 11 of 17 from the line.
All in all, this team is about where it should be as Krzyzewski has used the games to try various lineups while two of his players (Curry and Marshall Plumlee) are on the mend. History shows us that making too much out of any one game, especially an exhibition game, is fruitless. While the win last evening was not especially thrilling, it was just that — a win.