|Your Season Long Guide To Duke Hoops!|
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Duke went to Columbus for last season's ACC-Big Ten Challenge match with Ohio State, fresh off a title at Maui. The jet-lagged Blue Devils were cuffed around for 40 minutes like the proverbial rented mule, suffering a dispiriting 85-63 loss that shook the team's confidence to its core.
The loss simmered in the background for everyone associated with the program. Wednesday night was a chance for payback.
It came. But it sure didn't come easy. The second-ranked Blue Devils trailed for much of the game's first three quarters but never let fourth-ranked Ohio State break contact. With the game on the line? "You have to make some big plays down the stretch and we couldn't," said Ohio State coach Thad Matta. "Duke made the big plays."
The result was a 73-68 Duke win, the third Duke victory over a top-five team this month.
Ohio State dominated the first half with a toughness and physicality that knocked Duke off their stride. "I was disappointed in our fight," Mike Krzyzewski said of the first half. "They were being more physical and we weren't adjusting to the game."
The youngsters had the most trouble. Duke went almost sixteen minutes before getting a point from anyone other than their seniors; Josh Hairston converted a stick-back to cut Ohio State's lead to 26-21. Duke shot 6-20 from the field in the first half, with the perimeter trio of Seth Curry, Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook combining for a 1-11 nightmare.
The Buckeyes also pulled down 11 offensive rebounds in the first half, converting them into 10 second-chance points.
Duke trailed 31-23 at intermission; their biggest deficit was 10. It could have been worse. OSU star Deshaun Thomas sat down with two fouls after scoring eight points in 10 minutes. Buckeyes point-guard Aaron Craft also missed time with fouls. But Duke couldn't take advantage of their absence.
Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon struggled mightily in the opening stanza, looking nothing like the prodigy we've seen earlier in the month. Sulaimon had zero points, zero rebounds and zero assists at intermission.
Sulaimon said Krzyzewski noticed. "Ohio State is a very physical team and I let my team down in the beginning. I was not playing as well as I could be and coach really challenged me at half-time. I needed to step it up. I wasn't playing as hard as I could. I was letting the other team outwork me, out physical me and just outplay me."
Sulaimon did a complete 180. As did point guard Quinn Cook, who nearly brought down the house with a fast-break lob to Mason Plumlee for a dunk that made the score 33-27.
It looked for an instant that Cook had overthrown the streaking Plumlee.
Not so, says Cook. "I knew he was going to get it. He gets mad at me if I throw it too low. It was an amazing play by an amazing player."
Plumlee was a dominant force throughout the game, keeping Duke close early when no one else was making a shot and grabbing almost half of Duke's 37 rebounds.
Duke cut the lead to two points at 46-44 and 48-46 and a single point at 51-50. Ryan Kelly finally put them over the top, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers in barely a half-minute, the second of which gave Duke a 56-53 lead with 5:42 left.
Plumlee, Cook and Sulaimon added to the lead and Duke could almost breathe easily when a Sulaimon dunk in transition made it 66-58 with 1:04 left. But Cook, Thornton and Curry missed the first end of one-and-ones over a span of 15 seconds. The visitors couldn't take advantage of the respite and Cook converted six straight from the line, to wrap it up.
Plumlee ended the game with a 21-point, 17-rebound game, the kind of stat line that has made the big guy one of the early favorites for national honors. Krzyzewski said that Plumlee deserved the credit for his stunning season. "He was magnificent. Where is now, is on him."
But Duke also managed OSU's two All-American candidates. Thomas played the entire second half and added only eight points to his eight first-half points. He came into the game averaging 24 points per game. Ryan Kelly had Thomas most of the game. "I took it upon myself to control him," Kelly said. "He can obviously score the basketball. I did my best and battled him every minute he was in there."
As did Quinn Cook against Craft. Cook ended the game with 10 points, six rebounds and eight assists, while Craft shot 3-15, with a single assist against three turnovers. "That's why you come to Duke, to go against the best players. It's fun playing against guys like that, because he brings it for 40 minutes and you have to fight him and make him work just as hard."
Then there was Sulaimon, who ended with 17 points and four rebounds." He brought us verve," Krzyzewski said. "For a freshman to respond that way is superb. It just doesn't happen that way all that often."
Krzyzewski said his guys were "unbelievable" for beating its fourth quality opponent in seven days. "We adjusted to the physicality of the game, fought better for position. We opened it up more, asked Quinn to push it down the court. We're a much better team this year than last year. We're older, more athletic, we have one of the best players in the country. Cook and Sulaimon have emerged where they can play with anybody in the country."
Duke extended its school record home, non-ACC win streak to 97.
Mike Krzyzewski is 22-12 in games in which both teams ranked in top-five.
Plumlee notched the third 17-rebound game of his career, the second this season. He is now averaging 11 rebounds per game on the season.
Krzyzewski said he is still uncertain when Marshall Plumlee will make his debut.