It would have been easy for Duke to overlook Delaware. After all, Duke was playing its fifth game in nine days, a murderer's row that included half of last season's Final Four.
A good time to take it easy?
It didn't take Duke long to disabuse anyone of that notion. Ryan Kelly put Duke on the board with a jumper 17 seconds into the game and extended the lead to 4-0 on the next possession. Delaware never got even, never was in contact after Duke used a 15-0 run to extend the lead to 25-7.
The final was 88-50 and it wasn't that close.
In fairness to Delaware, they were on the last day of their fall 2012 Road Tour. The Blue Hens dropped to 2-6 and haven't played at home yet.
Despite the record, Delaware came into Cameron with the look on the team that might be dangerous. Their wins were over Virginia and Pennsylvania and their losses included a three-point setback to Kansas State and a five-point loss to Temple.
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Duke also played without Seth Curry, who sat out with an ankle injury not related to the shin problem that has vexed him this season.
Duke started a perimeter trio of Rasheed Sulaimon, Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton and all three took their turn checking Delaware star Devon Saddler. The 6-3, 210-pound Saddler looks like he signed up for the wrong sport on tryout day but he has game. He scored 32 points against Kansas State, 28 against Pitt, 25 against Temple.
" I just wanted to put great pressure on the ball," Cook said. "I think we all fought him. The guys off Sadler did a good job of plugging. We created congestion for him. Whoever was on him, we made him fight for all 40 minutes."
Saddler went-3-for-11 from the field in the first half, when the game was decided. He got some late buckets and ended with 23 points. But he went 8-22 from the field and turned it over four times, to a single assist.
Saddler didn't get much help. Freshman point guard Terrell Rogers was badly overmatched, while center Jamelle Hagins was saddled with foul trouble.
Delaware played zone but still had no success with Duke's bigs. Ryan Kelly went where he wanted and did what he wished on the way to a 15-point first half. "The free-throw line was pretty open. I like that shot and I took it."
Mason Plumlee ruled the paint, with 13 points and nine rebounds at intermission. Hagins had 47 points and 35 rebounds in Delaware's last two games against Temple and Lafayette but was helpless against Duke's emerging superstar.
It was 42-19 at the half.
The absence of Curry and the one-sided nature of the game, gave Mike Krzyzewski an opportunity to extend his bench. True freshman Amile Jefferson and redshirt freshman Alex Murphy both played career-high 21 minutes and both were effective.
Jefferson aggressively attacked the basket on the way to 12 points and six rebounds.
Then there was Murphy, whose brief and tentative play has created some angst amongst the Duke fan base. Murphy ended with 10 points and seven rebounds.
All of Murphy's points came in the second half, starting with a reverse lay-up and then a 3-pointer. As he started making plays, Murphy had the look of a man who had just learned he wasn't going to be subject to a tax audit after all. "I didn't look at it like a coming-out party," Murphy says. "But it's important for everyone to step up when a guy like Seth is out. When you see some shots fall, it definitely helps your confidence. You loosen up a little bit."
Speaking of career highs and taking advantage of opportunities, Tyler Thornton took over from Curry in the starting lineup and played about as well as anyone can play while scoring three points. Thornton had 10 assists, the most by any Duke player currently on the roster, and added six rebounds and three steals, while helping to dismantle the Delaware guards.
"We didn't find out that Seth wasn't going to play until right before game time," Thornton said. "I tell the coaches all the time that I'm ready to do whatever they need me to do. Everybody brought energy and enthusiasm and that's all the coaches ask of us."
Cook and Sulaimon added six assists each, with Sulaimon scoring 14 points. Duke had 23 assists on 35 field goals, while turning it over only 11 times. Delaware, on the other hand, was reduced to a series of one-on-one adventures and notched only three assists, against 15 turnovers.
Plumlee ended with 18 points and 11 rebounds, Kelly 18 points. Duke outrebounded Delaware 37-26, had eight blocks and nine steals.
"We had a chance for a letdown," Krzyzewski said "and we didn't have it. We played hard the entire game."
Krzyzewski said Curry should be fine for next Saturday's game against Temple.
Duke will take off tomorrow and Monday, both to rest and catch up on end-of-semester projects.
Much of the last five minutes turned into get-the-ball-to-Todd Zafirovski. The effort was rewarded when the popular walk-on converted a Thornton pass into a layup, for his first career points. The 6-9 senior added a rebound and a blocked shot.
Thornton said he called the play for Zafirovski. "I'm happy for him. He does a great job for our team in practice. He battles Mason and Ryan every day in practice. When he gets into the game, because of all the work he does that no one knows about, we try to get him the ball."
When asked about Jefferson and Murphy, Krzyzewski said that Duke wasn't surprised by their games. "We already knew they could do it. Everybody played well. Not one player played less well than anyone else." He also suggested that developing Plumlee, Curry, Kelly, et. al. was more important than developing his bench. "You have to make sure your group understands its role."