Temple came into Wednesday night's game with Duke averaging 71 points per game, while allowing 61 points per game. It's been a successful recipe, helping the Owls to a spot in the national polls and a certain invite from the NCAAs next month.
So, it's no surprise that Temple worked really hard to keep the tempo at a comfortable tempo. It worked for most of the first half. But it takes 40 minutes to beat Duke. That's a clichÃ©, to be sure but clichÃ©s become clichÃ©s for a reason. Duke dominated the game's final 24 minutes, breaking open a close game and looking for all the world like a No.1 team in a convincing 78-61 win.
In fairness to Temple, they are playing without forward Scootie Reynolds, out with a foot injury and post player Michael Eric, out with a broken patella. The duo have averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds per game, so their loss is not inconsequential.
Temple coach Fran Dunphy has responded by retooling his team, running four mid-size players around Lavoy Allen, a 6-9 center, who last week became Temple's career rebound leader.
Temple spread the floor, burned some clock and got Duke into some early foul trouble. Duke also got Temple into some early foul trouble. A tightly-whistled opening 13 minutes saw Temple reach the bonus less than nine minutes into the game, Duke 30 seconds later. Miles Plumlee picked up two fouls 15 seconds apart, while Temple's star point guard Juan Fernandez picked up his third foul with 6:43 left in the half.
The teams eventually figured it out and the whistles blew in a normal manner after that.
Temple's last lead was 12-11. Tyler Thornton came off the bench to score four points in an 8-0 run that gave Duke its biggest first-half lead, at 19-12. Temple closed to 28-24 but a 3-pointer by Seth Curry left Duke up 31-24 at the half.
Dunphy cited Curry's 3 with five seconds left in the half as a key play that gave Duke momentum going into the locker room. "We survived the first half," Dunphy said. "That last 3 really hurt us."
The first half saw the offensive return to form of Kyle Singler, who scored a dozen points, half from the line. Other than Allen, Temple doesn't have a lot of quality size and Singler confirmed that the game plan was to go inside early and often.
But it wasn't just Xs and Os. Mike Krzyzewski said following the game that Singler had been treating too many shots as jump shots, even when they weren't jump shots. "We reminded him to be more physical, to play with more force. He finished well. He attacked the rim."
Singler opened the second half by attacking. His lay-up was blocked as Krzyzewski screamed for a goal-tending call that never came. Temple scored to cut the lead to five. Singler attacked again, missed, dug out a rebound in traffic and muscled in a shot surrounded by a good bit of the Temple defense. It was vintage Kyle Singler.
Temple never got close again. Dunphy said his team didn't do a good job of managing the game. They started taking and missing quick shots and Duke turned those misses into run-outs and easy baskets. Mason Plumlee grabbed three defensive rebounds in the first two minutes of the second half. Curry converted the second into a transition 3, putting Duke up 36-26. Nolan Smith scored a lay-up off a Mason Plumlee steal and then hit a 3 and it was 41-28. Duke executed its delay game with great efficiency and expanded the lead to as much as 19.
Smith didn't have his greatest game, missing some shots he usually makes and forcing the issue a few times. Still, he finished with 15 points and four assists. But it was Singler's night. Without making a single long shot, Singler scored 28 points, his highest total since he scored 30 points against Oregon way back in late November. He made all eight of his foul shots, helping Duke to a 16-17 night from the line.
Krzyzewski spent as much time praising Singler's defense as his offense. Singler spent much of his game guarding 6-4 Ramone Moore, who had scored 89 points in Temple's previous four games. Moore scored eight against Duke. Krzyzewski said Singler "is as good defensively as anybody."
Smith (3-6), Curry (3-5), and Andre Dawkins (2-2) were lights out from beyond the arc, Ryan Kelly (0-3) and Singler (0-1) were not. Still, 94 percent from the line, 47 percent from beyond the arc and 55 percent from the field in the second half against a 21-5 team are winning stats.
As is Mason Plumlee's 13 rebounds, three shy of his career high. Plumlee has hit double-figures in rebounds 13 times this season.
Dunphy had an interesting comment after the game in praising Duke's mental toughness. "They're strong minded. They have a purpose to them."
When given the opportunity, most college coaches jump at the chance to give their team a week off. The ACC didn't have Duke scheduled for a mid-week game this week and Duke could have taken it easy.
Not gonna happen. Mike Krzyzewski has always preferred to use those late-season opportunities to schedule quality non-conference opponents like Temple or St. John's, feeling that playing an NCAA Tournament caliber opponent is better for his team than resting its bumps and bruises. Given his track record in March, it is hard to argue to the contrary.
Noting that Temple is sixth in all-time wins, Krzyzewski called the game "a nice celebration of college basketball."
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