There are so many postives for Duke Basketball tafter their latest win that it is hard to figure out where to begin. Tyler Thornton played the game of his life nailing two three pointers , including one at the buzzer in front of the Duke bench and that helped the Blue Devils defeat a pesky Kansas team by 68-61 score. As heroic as Thorntons exploits were, he had plenty of help. Let's break it down -
Ryan Kelly earns MVP honors
Kelly was an iron man in Maui, playing 36 minutes and scoring 17 points in the victory over Kansas. His overall play earned him the Most Valuable Player honor and he deserved the recognition. Kelly was cool under pressure, nailing free throws with incredible accuracy and his blocked shots were most timely and let's not forget his 3 assists, one to Andre Dawkins for a key three pointer.
Mason Plumlee manned up big time
When Duke needed a rebound, Mason was there and his play earned him high praise from Coach Krzyzewski who said he was the most valuable player in tonights game. Plumlee had abother double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds and after missing his firstt two free throws, he hit seven straight. Mason is comiing into his own this season and he is the man in the middle for the Blue Devils.
Austin Rivers made the all tournament team
Rivers was saddled with foul trouble tonight, yet he still made the all tournament team after his career high effort against Michigan. But the impressive thing to me was the fact Duke won without their start freshman on the court. Rivers continues to grow into a complete basketball player and he will be fun to watch as the lights continue to go off as the season progresses.
The three ball was deadly for Duke and they defended it well
Duke held Tennessee to zero three pointers int he opener and Kansas went just 2 for 8. Meanwhile, Duke rocked the rims for 11 treys in their win over Kansas. The Blue Devils shot the ball well from the stripe in the tournament and that played a key role in them returning to Durham as champions.
Earlier in the eveninf I stated that Thornton does so many things that doesn't show up in the box score and then he went and got all hero on us. Thornton thrilled Duke fans nationwide with two huge three pointers. The first one he shot with the kind of confidence that he knew it was going in. And the last one, was a wide legged shot right in front off the bench as time expired. The social networking world for Duke fans went nuts. Thornton came to compete and that is why he helped Duke win with the game on the line.
Props to the staff
I think it's clear that the Duke Men's Basketball staff has done one hecj of a job to date with this team. They are pushing the right buttons early on and that means trouble for teams on their schedule. You had to love the assistants getting off after Thornton drained that killer three. You never saw Duke panic tonight, instead they fought through adversity to win and a major part of that is coaching.
By the numbers
Duke is now a most impressive 15-0 all time in the Maui Invitational and there are always good teams in the field, no matter the year. Duke is also 7-2 all time against Kansas, one of the nations most storied programs. The win was the 35th straight in November for the Blue Devils.
Link to - Official Box Score More to come folks! We should have some exclusive one on one videos from Hawaii.
During the post game press conference, Coach Mike Kyzyzewski, states, "Our fans need to realize that Belmont is a good team." It certainly showed to as the veteran team that others avoid to schedule fought their way back into the game, but Duke made plays down the stretch to come out with a 77-76 win. This Duke team is young and are a work in progress and Kryzewski stated that they would be better from the tight game and I agree.
While some will point to the fact the game was simply close, Duke, despite their youth was cool down the stretch. Andre Dawkins drained a huge three which put Duke up by three and Ryan Kelly drained two free throws to seal the first win of the season.
Tyler Thornton had the best game of his career
The Belmont guards wore down the Duke backcourt with their pressing and depth and that meant Tyler Thornton had to step up and he did. Thornton adds a calming influence to the team and going 2 for 3 from the field and 2 of 2 from the three point stripe helped Duke gain a victory. Thornton told BDN after the game that his performance is one he could build on.
Mason was a Monster on the blocks
Mason Plumlee put up some very impressive numbers of 13 points, 14 rebounds and a team high 6 assists. He also had a very key block in the second half. Check out our interview with Mason which will be up soon. His brother Miles never really got off in this game, scoring 4 points to go with 6 boards, but played just 17 minutes.
Curry and Rivers
Curry struggled a little in the distribution department but still managed a so-team high of 16 points. Curry hot four consecutive three pointers in the contest. Rivers was the other player with 16 in his freshman debut. Krzyzewski said it was a good game for his first one but that he needed to dish the rock better when he penetrates. Rivers knocked down 8 of 10 free throws.
Kelly huge second half
Ryan stepped to the free throw line with seven seconds on the clock and hit nothing but net to give Duke a 4 point lead. He totaled 12 points on the game to go with 6 rebounds. Krzyewski was pleased at how calm he played down the stretch.
Coach K not pleased with his teams offense
Coach did not like the way his team played in the second half on the offensive end and said the turnovers, a whopping 19, led to a lot of open threes on the other end for Belmont.
By the numbers
Coach K is now two games shy of the all time NCAA wins record. Duke has won every season opener since the 2011 season. Five Duke players scored in double figures. Duke has now won 87 straight games against non conference opponents in Cameron. Duke is 66-2 in Cameron over the last five seasons.
Duke is now 1-0 on the season and takes on Presbyterian at 4:30 on Saturday in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Participation in the Friendship Games provided an early look at the 2011-12 edition of the Duke Blue Devils. In three games against the China Junior National Team and one game against the United Arab Emirates National Team, Coach Krzyzewski was able to get an early jump on melding the individual Blue Devils into a cohesive team.
The dog days of summer are usually spent watching the pennant races heat up and preparing for the upcoming football season, while plenty of time was still devoted to those meaningful activities, Duke Basketball fans were treated to competitive international basketball in August. For diehard college basketball fans, those games were a sweet appetizer for the upcoming season.
So, what did we learn during the four games? In no particular order, we learned the following:
Ryan Kelly is looking really good
Ryan Kelly led the Blue Devils in scoring with 60 points over the four games. He also collected 33 rebounds for an impressive 15 points and 8.2 rebounds per game stat line. But the story isn’t Kelly’s stat line, but rather his calm, collected attitude on the court. The story is how smooth and confident Kelly looked knocking down a jump shot, collecting a rebound or delivering a pass to an open teammate.
If Kelly can build off his play in the Friendship Games, and continue to improve his all around game, he could be a player who gives opponents match-up fits and develops into an All ACC performer in 2012.
Over the four games, the same five players started: Miles Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Andre Dawkins, Austin Rivers and Seth Curry. While I am sure Coach Krzyzewski will still mix and match line-ups in the early season games, with some fluctuation in the starting line-up based upon practice intensity and previous game performance, the fact the same five guys started all four summer games is indicative that a solid pecking order has been established.
The perimeter is deep and talented
Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins and Austin Rivers combine to be a formidable three guard back court. Curry and Rivers can both handle the ball even though they are not true point guards, while Dawkins, who has always been a very dangerous shooter, appears ready to be a threat to attack the rim via back door cuts and by working the baseline.
Dawkins and Rivers each scored 57 points in the four games with Curry right behind them at 54 points. Dawkins sank a blistering 48.3 percent of his 3-point attempts, while Curry led the team with nine steals.
Rivers has the ability to create his own shot and drive to the rim; however, these international games demonstrated he still has a lot to learn. There will be further discussion on Rivers in a bit.
Turning to the bench players, Tyler Thornton is a pest and I mean that in the best possible way. His tenacious approach to playing defense will continue to earn him significant playing time.
Alex Murphy has length and the ability to run the court. While he struggled early on, he improved every game and was impressive in the United Arab Emirates game. Murphy should see time on the wing in relief of Dawkins and at power forward when Coach Krzyzewski decides to go with a small line-up.
Post game is in good hands
Led by senior Miles Plumlee, and including juniors Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee, this year’s Duke Blue Devils are as talented and experienced in the front court as they have been in a number of years.
The three upperclassmen combined for 134 points and 96 rebounds, which averages to 33.5 points and 24 rebounds per game, from the center and power forward positions, against legitimate competition. We are not talking summer pick-up games here. Last season, those three players combined for 18.6 points and 17 rebounds per game.
I realize the comparison is apples to oranges, four international games to an entire NCAA season, but I’m just throwing it out there as food for thought. It is data points fanatic fans can chew on.
To take the apples to oranges comparison one giant leap further, on the 2004 team, Luol Deng, Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph combined for 34.7 points and 19.9 rebounds per game.
While I am not trying to suggest this year’s front court will be as formidable as the 2004 front court, I am suggesting this front court has the potential to be very, very good and perhaps the best front court we’ve had since 2004. And that is saying something seeing as the 2006 front court of Shelden Williams and Josh McRoberts was not shabby.
To maneuver this section back into the here and now, before this year’s trio of front court players can reach their maximum potential, they must prove themselves in two areas: consistency of play and foul management. If those prerequisites are achieved, the sky is the limit.
Austin Rivers is ready to start as a freshman
Rivers was simultaneously impressive and inconsistent. He scored 57 points, but he led the team in turnovers with 15 and only connected on 5 of 21 3-point attempts.
The poor 3-point shooting can easily be explained away by the deeper arc on an international court. The turnovers are more a result of poor decision making and playing out of control. On multiple occasions Rivers drove too deep into the teeth of the opponent’s defense and was left without an option other than to throw the ball toward a teammate on the perimeter.
So, should Duke Fans Worldwide go into a panic and chew their finger nails until they bleed? No! Rivers is a freshman so those type plays should be expected. Like every other freshman, Rivers must adjust to the speed of the game and the increased talent level on the court.
Rivers’ decision making will improve and he will rapidly learn to play within himself and once that happens, which I expect will take place sooner rather than later, he will be a force to contend with on the hardwood.
During the Friendship Games, we learned Austin Rivers is ready to immediately start and be an impact player.
BDN goes one on one with sophomore point guard Tyler Thornton -