Duke finished the pre-holidays portion of the 2012-13 season with a 76-54 victory over Elon. The win was the 100th consecutive non-conference home win for Duke, extending a streak that goes back to 2000. The win also ensured another week atop the national polls.
Elon was a tougher nut to crack than Cornell, the previous night's victim. The game was tied eight times in the first 15 minutes, with neither team having a margin bigger than Duke's 20-15 lead.
Mike Krzyzewski said he thought his team was "mentally tired. It was hard for our guys. We need a break. Thank goodness our defense played so well. We weren't sharp on the offensive end. But we played really hard on the defensive end."
Elon coach Matt Matheny agreed that Duke's defense was crucial to the outcome. "When you play a team as good as Duke, you are challenged on every possession as if it's the most important possession. They do as good a job as anybody that I've prepared against at hedging screens and really forcing you out."
There was another factor. There's been much discussion of Duke's problematic defensive rebounding and with good cause. Duke entered the Elon game having allowed opponents to average 13.8 offensive rebounds per game.
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Elon had five. Mason Plumlee had more defensive rebounds-seven-than Elon had offensive rebounds. Impressive but not against the laws of nature. But Quinn Cook also grabbed seven defensive rebounds.
"I just wanted to get down there and help Mason out," Cook says. "We rely too much on Mason to grab defensive rebounds. I just wanted to get in there and snag some loose balls, just have a nose for the ball and stay in position."
Duke outrebounded Elon 43-32, the best rebounding differential of the season for the Blue Devils. Ryan Kelly had five of those, to go along with 14 points. "When we gang rebound, when five guys are rebounding, especially when our guards are rebounding, we can push the ball and get it out quick and get it into transition. That's when big things happen."
As with the Cornell game, the Blue Devils closed the first half with a patented Duke run, outscoring Elon 10-2 over the last 5:23. The last three came on a buzzer-beater by Cook from just inside mid-court. Cook says he may have made one that long at Oak Hill but calls the shot "pure luck."
Mason Plumlee wasn't lucky. Just dominant.
"Mason Plumlee's improvement in a year's time is extraordinary," Matheny said. "He's done a tremendous job of turning into a really good college player."
Plumlee credits his teammates. "Just knowing I'm going to get touches. I don't go 10 minutes wondering when I'm going to touch the ball. The more you touch the ball, the more comfortable you are and I'm pretty comfortable right now."
Plumlee ended the game with 21 points and 15 rebounds, his seventh double-double of the season.
Duke continued its defensive supremacy after intermission but started knocking down some shots. Plumlee scored Duke's first six second-half points, twice converting offensive rebounds into buckets. But it was the junior class that broke it open. Josh Hairston converted an offensive rebound, and then Tyler Thornton hit back-to-back 3-pointers, putting Duke up 49-35. Duke kept its foot on the gas pedal, never letting Elon score more than three-consecutive points in the second half.
Rasheed Sulaimon and Cook joined Plumlee and Kelly in double-figures with 13 and 10 points respectively. Led by Sulaimon's 3-4, Duke went 11-19 from beyond the arc and forced 17 turnovers.
Duke is going home for the holidays 11-0 and will return to practice the day after Christmas, with the next game at home December 29 against Santa Clara.
Kelly says the break comes at a good time. "This is the time to take a breath, re-energize, spend some time with our family and we'll be right back after it. We know that things aren't perfect right now. We have to keep getting better. But it's honestly an exciting and cool thing to know that we're 11-0 right now. I think we're at a pretty good place right now."
Marshall Plumlee did not dress out. Krzyzewski said that his sprain was not related to his earlier foot problem but Duke thought it best not to take any chances. No timeline for his return.
Krzyzewski discussed being number one, calling it an honor, not pressure. "We want to be number one as much as we can."
The record supports that view. Krzyzewski's teams are an astonishing 209-31 while ranked No. 1 in the AP poll.
Seth Curry went into the game 38-for-42 from the foul line. Curry was fouled on a 3-pointer early in the game and missed all three foul shots. He made one-of-two later in the half.
This is only the third time Curry has missed four foul shots in college. He had a 10-14 game against Radford, while playing for Liberty in 2009. Two years later, wearing a Duke uniform, Curry went two-for-six against NC State.