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Plumlee Leads Duke Past Marquette

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We were hoping for better play from the big men against Marquette, but we didn't expect to see the kind of game Mason Plumlee pulled out of the bag:  25 points on 12-16 shooting, 12 boards, four assists and five blocks. Those are some pretty gaudy stats.  We knew going in that no one could replicate what Brian Zoubek did last year, but having an agile and skilled big man who can do that is every bit as good -- and as good a fit for this team as Zoubek was for last year's.

You've all seen glimpses -- powerful dunks, blocks, a cunning passing instinct and hints of a marvelous mean streak -- but it hadn't showed up like this until now.

Good thing, too.

Duke was devastating at times, particularly in the first half when they really flashed their huge potential. It was like the Big Blue Machine: Irving on the break to Smith to Kelly to Singler - score!  Seth Curry for three! Andre Dawkins for three! Nolan Smith on the drive! Biff! Bam! Boom!

At that point in the game, with if memory serves a 14 point lead, it looked as if Duke might run away.  But Dick Vitale probably put his finger on part of the problem when he said that Duke's communication wasn't what it should be.

But when it was, this team was a weapon: thrilling to some, terrifying to others, but you couldn't look away because the potential is just so big.  The ball movement for a time was just dazzling.

However, it wasn't like that the whole game. Not surprisingly, rookie Kyrie Irving, faced with his first big-time opposition, had five turnovers (he also had eight assists).  Somewhat more surprisingly, senior Nolan Smith had six.

Collectively, Duke had 18.

Another not-so-great stat:  Duke was just 50% from the line, hitting 6-12.  Plumlee (Mason) was just 1-4, including a truly dreadful airball.

Marquette, aggressive as usual, took 17 to Duke's 12 (they hit 11 of those).

Yet even though the game was tied at 57-57 with 10:20 to go, it never felt like Duke was going to yield.  And getting a solid test now is great.

It has to be easy for a team - any championship team - to get a little cocky. Thing of Vegas.  Remember Stacy Augmon's '91 prediction? Essentially he said after four or five plays by UNLV, Duke would wilt. Steal here, dunk there, block, a bit of intimidation and that's all she wrote.

Only it doesn't work that way.  Everyone wants a crack at the champs, and it takes a great champion to stand up to it all, because it's incredibly taxing. There's a truly great documentary about this called Facing Ali.  A number of his challengers talk about the experience, how geeked up they were for it, and how they still, with a few exceptions, couldn't overcome him.

On Tuesday night, Kansas State is going to come at Duke much like Joe Frazier came at Ali.  It won't be terribly subtle; Frank Martin used to be a bouncer and retains the glare.  The Wildcats are aiming for ferocity, not poetry. How Duke responds is going to be key.

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