Duke lost to State as the ancient rivalry has found new life, but we wouldn't worry too much about the loss honestly, and here's why.
Duke played without Ryan Kelly. Seth Curry, playing on a bad right leg all year, hurt his left foot. Tyler Thornton got in foul trouble early and fouled out. Rasheed Sulaimon is in a deep slump.Â Amile Jefferson had a tough time defensively and fouled out.
Yet with 2:06 left, it was a four point margin. Duke, despite everything, was game and not very far from winning.
State made that really difficult though. Richard Howell had 18 rebounds. CJ Leslie, for whom Duke had no answer, finished with 25 points and six boards. Lorenzo Brown had 12 points and 13 assists. TJ Warrne finished with 10. Scott Wood didn't miss a shot from the floor or line and finished with 14.
State was really good. This is a team with Final Four potential.
Yet think back: remember last season in Cameron? Remember how thoroughly State dominated most of the game? That didn't happen this time, even with Kelly out, foul trouble for Thornton and Jefferson and Curry hurt late.
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In fact, perhaps the most important thing to come out of this game was the solid play of Jefferson. Yes, he got in foul trouble against Leslie. No great surprise there for a freshman.Â We were struck by his smarts and his ability to move around inside against some really good opponents.
Unless we miss our guess, he essentially assumed Kelly's position.Â Hairston may start, but Jefferson will be the guy.
Another minor point, but a good one to keep in mind for later, in a tight game: Duke handled the inbounds plays pretty well. That's Kelly's job normally.
And we were also impressed with Mason Plumlee's determination to step up his game. He got carried away at one point and tried to do a break by himself, but otherwise, he was excellent. The block on Leslie was an amazingly athletic play.
We can't really say we were disappointed. We'd have been disappointed if they hadn't played hard or if they had panicked or something like that. They didn't. They really did the best they could do in a tough situation and weren't that far from winning. In a couple of weeks, when Jefferson has gotten more minutes, when (we hope) Curry and Kelly are back and relatively healthy, Duke will be deeper and better for this stretch.
We'll write more later, when we have had time to digest the game more, but a word to State fans: obviously no one ever likes losing, but we are very happy to see the Pack back. It's no fun to beat a dispirited team with dispirited fans. It's a great program, an historic program, and one which should generate a lot of pride and accomplishments. We'd rather you be behind us than ahead of us, but at the same time would prefer you right behind us instead of at a Southern Conference level. Good to see your guys competing like this.