Duke fans got their first up close and personal look at Steve Donahue's Boston College team on Thursday night, and while Duke pulled away in the end, the Eagles showed enough to convince us that he'll do well there.
Behind strong all-around games from Nolan Smith, Seth Curry, Kyle Singler and Ryan Kelly, and with key contributions from others, Duke won by 14.Â At one point the Devils had a 20 point lead, but it wasn't as easy as it sounds.
Donahue, who looks young enough to be confused with a student manager, has installed an offense which puts a lot of pressure on the defense. B.C. is particularly adept at finding stress points and slipping the ball in for a layup or kicking it out for an open jumper.
Gone is the clumsy, unappealing flex offense which Skinner preferred, which required a lot of precision inside at the cost of speed and, well,Â a certain entertaining quality.
The only player whose game closely resembles the way he played under Al Skinner is Joe Trapani.Â Â Everyone else has been redeployed.
The one surprise to us was that star Reggie Jackson came off the bench, with Donahue saying that he had been outperformed in practice recently.
He was outperformed in the game too: Jackson andÂ Smith, the two leading scorers in the conference, were expected to have a major dual. Didn't happen.
Smith had a solid, even dominant game, but Jackson finished with just seven points, a weak performance by an NBA level guard.
Clever coaching overcame some limitations, but there's nowhere to hide the fact that Josh Southern is a mediocre big man and that Cortney Dunn has limited ability too.
Some of the repositioning of players has helped -- Corey Raji, always a strong player, has spent time at power forward and has also revealed himself to be a solid three-point shooter.Â Last season, he took just three; against Duke, he hit two and it seemed like more.
Still, the fact remains that Donahue is playing with a team picked to finish 10th and talent is the reason for that dismal forecast.
While Duke had to scramble periodically to plug holes in the defense, there was far more good news than bad.
At this point in their careers, Smith and Singler are known commodities, although the behind the back move which Smith whipped out was proof that he still has more to show.
But the contributions Duke got from Kelly and from Curry were even more encouraging.
Kelly, who didn't miss a shot until the second half, came close to breaking Alaa Abdelnaby's consecutive field-goal record, which stands at 20.
In the last several games, Kelly has more or less exploded, and we're not just talking about scoring.
He's playing with confidence and verve.Â He's rebounding, defending, blocking shots, making steals and now shootingÂ lights out.Â The guy is really coming on.
Duke a sensational performance from Curry as well, sparked by a sensational first half steal and pass for a layup.
After, it was off to the races for the Charlotte native, who finished with 20 points on 6-9 shooting.
But the good news doesn't end there. Over the last five games, Mason Plumlee is averaging 12.4 rebounds per game. For the season, he is averaging 8.6, but that's climbing fast.
Miles Plumlee, by our count, made five straight hustle plays,Â four of which which resulted in steals and the fifth a jump ball which Duke retained.
He's developing an interesting niche where he can come in and be highly disruptive defensively.
Andre Dawkins played 10 minutes that did not score. Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston but it did not contribute much statistically other than one rebound for Hairston.
In retrospect, this game was almost like a nonconference game, the sort which Coach K schedules midseason to gauge his team's progress.Â That's how new and intriguing Donahue's style is.
It was a long way from perfect, but the news overall is very encouraging.
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