Huge effort from Amile Jefferson tonight, whom Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called a beast in his post game presser. Jefferson grabbed 15 boards, with three of them coming during a key stretch. One where he bounded the ball out to Sulaimon for a three and then two consecutive as UVA was trying to tie the game. Jefferson also scored 10 points for a double-double on the night. Check out what Jefferson had to say to Blue Devil Nation post game -
PHILADELPHIA, PA. - Going into Duke's round of 32 game against Creighton, the question came up about Duke's depth. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's predilection for a short post-season rotation is well known, but did this year's Duke team have bench players who could step up if needed?
"Yep, we have enough guys," Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel said. "And we've proven that all year. Guys have stepped up and done a good job. You know we had a crisis in the middle of the year when Ryan went out, and not many teams have had a guy that's that important that's gone out and that's missed that many games, and we had guys that stepped up during that time. So if it comes to that, we'll have guys that are ready to step up and help us."
Boy, did it come to that. Duke's Ryan Kelly, who drew the assignment to guard Creighton's national player-of-the-year candidate Doug McDermott, was whistled for a foul 43 seconds into the contest, a harbinger of things to come.
The game was billed as a matchup of two of the best five offenses in the country. Creighton led the nation in field goal percentage and three-point percentage this season, and was fifth in the country in assists per game (while also coming in tenth in the country in assist to turnover ratio). Pomeroy rated the Blue Jays as the fifth most efficient offense in the land, while Duke ranked third.
"They're very difficult to guard," Capel said before the game. "They put a lot of pressure on your defense, with how well they execute, with their talent, and with how well they shoot the ball."
And the linchpin of that offense was Doug McDermott. Kelly hounded him for eight and half minutes, forcing the Creighton star to miss four of his first five shots, but the Duke forward drew his second foul with 11:29 to play in the first half and took a seat on the bench. Josh Hairston came in to check McDermott but fouled him on his very first possession thereafter. Less than a minute later, Mason Plumlee picked up his second foul.
Kelly checked back in but couldn't challenge McDermott inside. The Creighton forward began to get hot, hitting three of four shots and adding a couple of free throws. Creighton inched into the lead.
With 3:19 to play in the half, Kelly helped on a driving Austin Chatman and picked up his third foul. Duke fans let out a collective groan. Freshman Amile Jefferson, who gave up 30 pounds to McDermott and who'd played a mere eleven minutes in Duke's previous three games, came off the bench for Kelly.
"All I wanted to do was come in with tremendous energy and try to use my length," Jefferson said.
Creighton led, 21 to 20, when Jefferson entered the contest. It looked like Duke would have a challenge just keeping the game close until intermission.
Except that's not how it worked out. Rasheed Sulaimon hit a key three pointer with 2:47 to go in the half, giving the freshman a Duke-leading ten points and giving Duke a two point lead. McDermott and Seth Curry each hit two free throws, and then Curry stripped McDermott of the ball with 53 seconds remaining in the opening period. Krzyzewski called a timeout.
Instead of milking the clock, Duke went for a "two for one," attempting a quick score in the hope of getting the last possession of the half. It worked. Sulaimon was fouled on a drive and hit one of two free throws. Jefferson and junior reserve Josh Hairston checked in. Jefferson stuck to McDermott like Gorilla Glue, not allowing him a look at the basket. Creighton's Jahenns Manigat forced up a prayer three point attempt as the shot clock expired. Hairston ripped down the rebound and outletted to fellow bench player Tyler Thornton, who hit an off-balance three at the buzzer to give Duke a six point lead at the half, 29 to 23.
With Kelly burdened by his three fouls, Duke opened the second period trying Mason Plumlee on McDermott. Plumlee picked up his own third foul just thirty seconds into the half and Kelly had to switch back onto the Creighton foul magnet. The experiment cost Duke dearly when Plumlee made contact with Creighton center Greg Echenique and was whistled for his fourth foul with 17:48 to go and Duke clinging to a 31 to 27 lead.
Hairston re-entered the game but fouled McDermott and Creighton forward Ethan Wragge on consecutive plays. Now Mr. Hairston had four fouls as well. Kelly joined his frontcourt teammates by picking up his fourth with 13:25 to play.
In the meantime, Seth Curry made a great cut and layup to give Duke a nine point edge, 39 to 30, but it certainly didn't feel secure with Duke's entire regular frontcourt rotation saddled with four fouls each.
It was time for the reserves to shine.
"Our bench came through for us," Krzyzewski said afterwards. "Tyler, Josh, and Amile were outstanding contributors for us tonight."
Krzyzewski went out of his way to praise junior guard Tyler Thornton. "I really can't say enough about [Thornton] on the defensive end of the court tonight.... I especially thought Tyler helped us defensively in that second half when we were in all the foul trouble, when Amile and Josh were in, he was able to kind of orchestrate us and made the switch on top so McDermott didn't get it, and then he had to move a little more to get it. Communication was huge for us, and I thought Tyler was outstanding in getting us together and doing that."
Indeed, Thornton made some big plays, including flying in for an acrobatic steal just seconds after Kelly's fourth foul and drawing a critical charge on McDermott with 3:20 to play.
But the most unlikely contributions came from Amile Jefferson. He hit his only shot on a snazzy pick and roll play to give Duke a 43 to 32 lead, and then came up with a huge offensive rebound which led to a Curry layup maintaining Duke's cushion at 45-34. But more importantly he stuck with McDermott to the end, even snuffing one of the Creighton star's shots with just over nine minutes left in the contest.
"I love playing defense," Jefferson said afterwards. "And it's something I've been working on in practice. Guarding a wing now, with Ryan back I've been able to do a lot of that. And just learning from all these seniors, I've been able to get better. It's been real fun."
Hairston fouled out on the scramble after Jefferson's blocked shot, and Plumlee garnered his fifth with 2:45 to play.
But Doug McDermott didn't hit a field goal after Jefferson checked in, late in the first half.
"He's such an amazing player, it's tough," Jefferson said of McDermott. "He can shoot the ball, he's great off the dribble, he can post and he has great size. So I just wanted to try to bother him with my length and make him take tough, contested shots."
And that he did. The Creighton star shot just 4 for 16 for the game (along with 12 free throws) for 21 inefficient points. It was enough to give Duke a 66-50 win and a ticket to the Sweet 16.
"It's the best defense we've played all year," Krzyzewski said, noting communication is critical in games like this. "It was the best we talked on defense."
-- Rasheed Sulaimon led Duke with 21 points on 5 for 9 shooting (3 for 5 from three), plus 8 for 10 from the line.
-- Quinn Cook added 6 assists against 2 turnovers, giving him 17 assists and only 3 turnovers in the Philadelphia pod. That's an average of 8.5 apg and a 5.7 assist to turnover ratio.
-- Seth Curry, playing on an injured leg with a short turnaround, started slowly, hitting only one of his seven first half shots. But he heated up in the second period, shooting 4 for 8 (2 for 5 on threes) in the last twenty minutes. Perhaps more importantly, his leg held up. "I felt great, for the most part," Curry said.
-- Philadelphia native Amile Jefferson enjoyed shining in front of his hometown fans. "I was tremendously excited about [coming home and playing in Philly]. I had my family here, a lot of friends, my AAU coach, my head coach, so it was really fun to be out there and see them cheering me on, once again, like it was back in the old days. So I was really happy about that."
-- Ryan Kelly scored just 1 point, but Coach K praised him for his overall play. "I love that we won and [Ryan] scored one point.... He knows he played a heck of a game."
-- This weekend's games marked the third time under Coach K that Duke has played NCAA tournament games in Philadelphia and Duke is 6-0 in those games. The two other seasons Duke played in the City of Brotherly Love? That would be 1992 and 2001.
That's quite a precedent.
New polls have Duke #3 in the Nation
The new polls came out this afternoon and while it was inevitable they would fall from the top spot with the loss to N.C. State, the Blue Devils still have a lot of respect amongst voters. Duke still received 14 first place votes, and is rated #3 in the nation. Louisville, a team Duke beat earlier in the year, climbed to the top spot, while N.C. State vaulted to #14. Duke is 3-1 against teams currently in the top 25. With the weekend loss, Duke is now 213-32 in games played as the #1 team in the land.
A needed break
Duke will next take to the hardwood on Thursday evening against Georgia Tech in Cameron Indoor Stadium. It is never a bad thing for a team to have several days rest after a loss, especially the first loss, which can shake a team's confidence. Duke will undoubtedly work on their transition defense and study film to see where they can get better as they adjust their line up with Ryan Kelly's absence. Duke will get another six-day break after the Georgia Tech game before having to travel to Miami on January 23rd in what will be another stiff ACC road challenge. Duke will play three of their next five ACC contests on the road, so needless to say this will be an important stretch for the team.
Ryan Kelly injury
Seth Davis stated the other day that Ryan Kelly could be out for the season. Maybe so, but I wouldn't read too much into his comment. Most unsubstantiated rumors have said it'll be 2.5 to 4 weeks, but the reality of the situation is that it will be kept quiet. This is not an uncommon thing because teams do not want to allow their opposition to prepare differently, so sometimes what you are hearing is a form of disinformation. The bottom line is nobody will leak anything on this one, so it is best to just assume Kelly will be out for an extended period of time. While we often deal with what is termed inside information, we stop short of sharng anything we might learn if it could be remotely considered detrimental to the team; additionally, in my opinion they deserve some privacy. We all clearly wish for a return to the court for Ryan Kelly and continue to wish him the best in his recovery.
Silver lining of sorts
While the immediate impact from Ryan Kelly's injury is not positive for a team that had perfect chemistry, the long-term effect could be the development of some additional players. Duke needs players to step up right now and Amile Jefferson did just that against the Wolfpack. While Jefferson may not be physically ready for the ACC grind, he plays smart and has length and he grabbed hold of the opportunity afforded him vs N.C. State, posting 10 points. On the other hand, Duke got three minutes each from Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee, and their box scores read zeros across the board. Trust me when I say this: these brief minutes are looked at for production, and for either player to play more, those minutes, no matter how brief, need to show something positive in the box score. Josh Hairston played a career-high minutes and played well as a starter, his third such opportunity in his Duke career.
Sulaimon slumping on the offensive end
Surely you have heard the phrase "Hitting the freshman wall," and it is real. Adjusting to the speed and frequency of the games at the college level is a difficult thing. Throw schoolwork into the equation -- and we all know you have to attend class at Duke -- and it can be a lot to handle. Rasheed Sulaiumon has connected on just 9 of his last 40 shots in his last four games, including 0-10 against the Wolfpack on Saturday. In the four games prior to the last four, Sulaimon went 25 of 50 from he field, which is more of what the Blue Devils need from him. Hopefully, he can find that rhythm to his game again -- and fast -- as Duke needs its scorers to score. Sulaimon likely needs to just re-discover his feel for the speed of the game on the offensive end, where he can be aggressive but not playing as if expecting contact. I fully expect he will find that game flow, and Duke fans will be happy when that happens.
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.
In their season opening exhibition game in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday afternoon, the Duke Blue Devils defeated the Western Washington Vikings by a 105-87 score.
What a start for Rasheed Sulaimon!
The freshman looked like an old pro in his first outing, putting up 20 points, 3 assists, and 2 steals. Sulaimon is a player who lets the game come to him, so he got those numbers efficiently. If Duke can consistently get this type of effort from Sulaimon, he'll be hard to get out of the lineup -- even when Seth Curry returns. Coach K said, "He had an unbelievable first half and it started with his first play. We called a certain thing and he made a read that was the opposite of what that play was, and it was the right read. And for a freshman on his first play to have the guts to make a read and follow his instincts, well, that's impressive to me."
Senior Captains live up to billing
Senior Co-Captains Mason Plumlee (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Ryan Kelly (22 points 4 assists) led the way in scoring for Duke. Plumlee's 11 boards were a team high as were Kelly's 4 assists. Both players showed off their experience and both showed leadership, each in his own way. Plumlee also went 6 of 8 from the free throw stripe, but later in the locker room still wanted to do better. Duke said the intention was to go to Mason more this year, and in this game he led the team with 14 shots, knocking down 8 of them. Kelly was an outstanding 7 of 7 from the free throw stripe. Coach K on Kelly and Plumlee: "I thought they were okay in the first half but in the second, they played like really good players."
13-0 run sparked Duke
Coach Krzyzewski called a timeout with 6:22 to go in the half, at which time Duke held a 39-32 lead. Another timeout, this time from Western Washington, took place after the Blue Devils went on a 13-0 run, which helped them take a 54-39 lead into the half. Coach K on the timeout: "I though we let up a bit and "boom," because they're good they took advantage of it. I thought every time we came out of a timeout we executed exactly what we wanted and usually scored. I liked that."
Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy have nice debuts as well
True freshman Amile Jefferson scored 13 points on an efficient 5-7 shooting in his Cameron debut, while Alex Murphy tallied 6 points. Krzyzewski praised both in his post game press conference. Krzzyewski did say Jefferson left 4 points on the court but followed that up with an acknowledgement that he is learning. Coach K on Amile: "He's got the longest wing span on the team. He has a 7'1" wing span. When he starts moving well and playing like he did, there is a lot of length on the court."
Duke dominated from the free throw stripe
The Blue Devils got to the line 40 times, connecting on 31 of the attempts, while Western Washington had just 9 opportunities, connecting on 7 of them. Many of the calls that Duke got resulted from pushing the ball hard into the lane.
Jabari Parker and his family were visiting Duke today, and the Cameron Crazies were more than a little aware, holding up several signs along the way. There were larger signs on campus but many were removed by Duke Compliance. At the end of the half, Lola Parker walked over to see some pumpkins and take a picture. The pumpkins spelled out "Jabari." Parker is on crutches, still healing from a late summer injury. For more thoughts on Parker and company, join BDN Premium, our subscription service, for full site access.
Duke is a work in progress. But then again, every team in America is a work in progress in October. Coach Krzyzewski seemed pleased with his team's opening game, and he said that the staff was still feeling the team out. That process will continue as Duke takes on Winston-Salem State in another exhibition game on Thursday evening, also in Cameron. It's hard to take much away from exhibition games, but considering how early we are, I thought Duke looked pretty good. After a second viewing on Thursday, it should be easier to start forming educated opinions. Coach K's opening statement to the media can be seen below.