by Jim Sumner
Duke kicked off 2012 in high style Sunday, pummeling Pennsylvania 85-55. At times Duke played about as well as they can play, evoking images of past teams, the kind with banners in the ceiling.
It's easy to dismiss Penn. After all, the Ivy-League visitors dropped to 6-8 with the loss. But the Quakers have played a brutal schedule that includes single-digit losses to Temple (in overtime), Wagner, James Madison, Villanova, UCLA and Davidson. Only Pitt (78-58) didn't struggle against Penn and they certainly didn't dismantle them like the Blue Devils did. Penn certainly projects to be a top-four team in the Ivy League.
Duke jumped on Penn with both feet and kept stomping. Duke was led by a couple of veterans who rebounded from so-so efforts against Western Michigan Friday night. And yes, the pun is intentional.
Ryan Kelly sat out most of the second half of the WMU game after an ill-advised pass. But Kelly showed that Duke's mantra "next play" is more than just an empty slogan.
"I made a bad play. Basketball happens like that. You make good plays, you make bad plays. You put it on the back and move forward. I'm confident in my game. I know I'm a really good player and can help our basketball team."
Kelly opened the scoring with a short jumper off an offensive rebound and followed with a three-pointer that put Duke up 5-2.
Mason Plumlee also had something to prove and he proved it on the boards. Mason had only two rebounds against Western Michigan. It took him all of 2:19 to surpass that total against Penn.
Mike Krzyzewski certainly noticed the difference. "You have to be hungry to put up the stats that he does. Rebounding is hunger and pursuit. If you don't start the ball-game that way, it doesn't mean you have a bad attitude but if you're not in that mindset, you're not going to get the boards. He's got to come in lathered up."
Duke led 14-2 after four minutes and the lead never dropped below 10 the rest of the way. "We needed to come out strong," Kelly said. "We started the last game well but not as well as we could have. Tonight we really jumped out of the gates and were ready to play."
Seth Curry noted another advantage of the fast start. "With our students not here, you want to give the crowd something to cheer about. We jumped on them early and let them know we're here to play and we're focused."
Losing coach Jerome Allen said it was important for his team to get off to a good start. "We've got to throw the first punch in the fight. We didn't get the job done."
The firm of Plumlee, Plumlee and Kelly ruled the glass, enabling Duke to crank up its fast break. "You've got to be willing to run the floor," Kelly says, "and we've got guys who are certainly willing to do that. That's a talent."
But the game wasn't won just on the offensive end. Krzyzewski said this was Duke's best defensive effort of the season. The key was stopping Penn's Zach Rosen and Tyler Bernardini. Rosen has been first-team All-Ivy the last two seasons, while Bernardini made eight three-pointers against both Marist and UCLA this season. Rosen and Bernardini came into the game averaging a combined 35 points per game.
"They were not able to run their offense the way they usually do," Krzyzewski said. "It started with limiting Rosen and Bernardini. I thought Tyler and Quinn did a good job on him [Rosen] but our big guys did a really good job on the ball screens, which he usually uses so well to get into the lane and distribute. We had Seth, Andre and then Mike G on Bernardini and he got one open look, which he missed and one that he hit."
Rosen and Bernardini combined for 7-20 from the field on the way to 18 points, five assists and five turnovers.
Quinn Cook had his third straight scintillating performance, jump-starting Duke's fast break and consistently finding the open man. His nine assists was the best total compiled by any Duke player this season.
Even more impressively, Cook accomplished this without a single turnover. In fact, he has 17 assists and no turnovers in the two games since the holiday break. Cook has had 36 points, 19 assists, two turnovers and three steals in his last three games.
Cook says limiting turnovers doesn't just happen. "Coach K definitely stresses in practice, don't turn the ball over, don't turn the ball over. So, I try not to do too much, just make the right plays. Get guys in position to score and I try to get them the ball."
Cook says there's better to come. "I've got a long way to go. It's my whole confidence. It isn't where it was. But I'm going to slowly get it back. My teammates are helping me every day."
Earlier in the season, Duke had some trouble maintaining big leads. But Duke kept extending the margin against Penn, leading 44-26 at the half and peaking at 74-40. Penn never scored more than five consecutive points.
Duke's 47-29 dominance on the boards included 14 rebounds by Mason Plumlee and a career-high 12 from Kelly.
Miles Plumlee, who grabbed seven rebounds, says Duke will continue to build on that aspect of its game. "This year I think we have a really good rotation of bigs. We're athletic and long, big guys. So, we're going to be able to get some boards. We recognized that early in the season. We're working on exploiting that the rest of the year."
As with the Western Michigan game, Duke was able to get playing time for a lot of people. Austin Rivers led Duke with a modest 27 minutes, all ten recruited players played at least 10 minutes and all scored, the last being Michael Gbinije, who punctuated the win with a monster slam-follow shot.
Duke hits the road next week, Temple on Wednesday, Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Kelly says Duke is still a work in progress. "You have to keep adding as a team. You can't be the same team at the beginning of the year as you are at the end. We're adding new things every day and that's making us a better team."
Curry agrees. "These kind of games just build momentum. We're excited about getting better, going on the road and winning some tough games."
Duke's win was their 24th consecutive against Ivy-League teams. Duke is now 50-9 all time against the Ivies, 10-6 against Penn.
Penn came into the game shooting 37 percent on threes and making almost eight per game. They made 2-of-13 against the Blue Devils.
Duke, meanwhile, went 9-of-20 from downtown, making them 33-for-68 over their last three games.
The last time Duke played on New Year's Day was 1966,when Duke beat Wake Forest 92-76. . .
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