By Jim Sumner
Under normal circumstances, a mid-November game between Duke and Presbyterian would barely register as anything more than a tune-up. These aren't ordinary circumstances, of course. Unless you've been off-planet for the last sixth months, you know that Duke's 96-55 win over Presbyterian was win number 902 for Mike Krzyzewski, tying him with Bob Knight for the most coaching wins ever, an accomplishment that dwarfs anything Duke and Presbyterian did Saturday afternoon.
First, the game. The outcome was never in doubt. The Cougars never led but kept the game competitive for about eight minutes. When Pierre Miller nailed a three-pointer to cap off a 7-0 Presbyterian run, Duke led only 19-17. After that Duke shook off the cobwebs and the distractions and shut down Presbyterian, holding the visitors without a field goal for over eight minutes. It was 53-30 at the half, leaving only the final score in doubt.
Presbyterian is not as good as Belmont, not close. But Duke did play better than in its season opener, sharper and more focused.
Losing coach Greg Nibert said that his game-plan was to concentrate on the Duke guards and dare the Plumlees to beat him.
Oops. Nibert called Duke's post game a "clinic" offensively and defensively. "Their inside game was the best I've seen in a long time. It was like going to a knife fight with a toothpick. Every time (Al'Lonzo) Coleman got around one Plumlee, he ran into another. Their post interior was the key to the game. It takes them to another level."
The stat lines bear him out. The brothers Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Josh Hairston combined for 52 points, 28 rebounds, 3 blocks and suffocating defense, hounding Coleman-Presbyterian's best player-into 4-for-14 shooting and 3 turnovers.
Duke's perimeter play was also pretty good. Austin Rivers showed that his development is coming along quite nicely, thank you very much, with six assists, no turnovers and 15 points, in a modest 21 minutes.
Krzyzewski said that his precocious freshman is still figuring out how good he can be. "A lot of players they never learn to understand their impact on the game, because they only see what points they score. His presence on our team means so much more because it can mean other people can score, whether he's getting to the foul line or making the easy passes he made today. "
Seth Curry added another solid state line, while Quinn Cook hit a pair of three-pointers on the way to a ten-point performance, making him one of six Blue Devils in double figures.
Duke's improved decision-making was evident, although Presbyterian didn't provide as much game pressure as Belmont. Still, Duke only had two turnovers in the first half, ten for the game, many of those in the final minutes. Duke's primary ball-handlers turned it over only twice.
Krzyzewski tried to talk about the game in the post-game media conference, singling out Mason Plumlee ("great leadership" )and Austin Rivers ("fantastic game"). To little avail. People's minds were otherwise focused. Krzyzewski talked about Tom Butters and Terry Sanford and Dean Smith, his players, his assistant coaches, the Duke infrastructure and mostly Knight and how grateful he was that people stuck with him when they could have given up.
Still, there were some insights that show just how he got where he is. Krzyzewski said that he got to sleep about 5:30 Saturday morning, after a long night of looking at film. A 90-minute nap recharged the batteries,
"I'm not complaining. That's what we do. And we like it." He doesn't eat much on game days, still gets butterflies and says it will be time to do something else if this ever changes. The record will come when it does but helping his team get better can't take a back seat to even the most impressive of records.
Alex Murphy sat out the two games after a head injury suffered in practice this week. His status is day-to-day.
Krzyzewski's pursuit of Knight obscures some other impressive records. Duke hasn't lost at home in November since Vanderbilt accomplished that task in 1981. Duke has won 30 straight overall in the month and Krzyzewski is 110-10 in November at Duke. The Blue Devils have won 38 straight home games, third best in school history. The school record is 46, from January 13, 1997 until February 9, 2000.