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Duke 82 Eastern Michigan 59

The Eagles were game, but Duke just had too much to overcome

Amile Jefferson calls on the Cameron crowd to get involved against Eastern Michigan
Amile Jefferson calls on the Cameron crowd to get involved against Eastern Michigan
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Although a tough and scrappy Eastern Michigan squad hung around until well into the second half, ultimately Duke's talent just won out, although for a few minutes, it wasn't clear just what talent Duke would put on the floor.

After being introduced as a starter, Rodney Hood took off from the bench and Coach K quickly put Andre Dawkins in in his place.

As it turned out, Hood was ill and had to find some immediate relief. In the vernacular, when you have to go, you have to go. Or else it came up.

Whatever the case, it was an odd beginning for Duke. Not that it mattered to Jabari Parker.

Parker scored Duke's first eight points, including a spectacular alley-oop to kick off the Blue Devil's offense.

Dawkins picked up the scoring for Hood, who shot just 3-8 and was clearly not his usual silky self.

Dawkins scored 20 on 6-10 from the floor. More impressively, he played some of the best defense of his Duke career.

That was great to see. But there was a lot more good news, starting with the outstanding play of Rasheed Sulaimon.

It's been a really weird early season for Sulaimon, who nearly won ACC Rookie of the Year last year, then all but disappeared from the floor.

As we learned more, it was revealed that Sulaimon was sick early but also wasn't in great condition.

If that was true then, it's not now.

Sulaimon played with aggression and confidence, shooting and driving for 13 points.

More importantly, though, he may have had the defensive play of the year so far for Duke: as an Eastern Michigan ballhandler tried to advance the ball to the offensive end, Sulaimon, tracking him step for step, applied immense pressure. Eventually he forced a turnover near halfcourt, picked up the loose ball, drove back down and drew a flagrant foul.

A different Sulaimon was in Cameron Saturday, and this one was a beast. But it wasn't just Sulaimon.

If Dawkins and Sulaimon played their best all-around games so far - and Dawkins' over-all defense and his open-court block suggest that he did - so did Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee.

Jefferson finished with seven points and 14 rebounds, leading Duke to a huge rebounding day (Duke finished with 47 overall and 20 offensive boards).

Fourteen boards is really impressive. It might put Jefferson back in the starting lineup.

And the youngest Plumlee continues to improve rapidly. Finally fairly healthy, Marshall Plumlee, while not as fluid as his brothers, is a good bit nastier. He rebounds with a snarl and though it didn't count because a foul preceded it, laid down a tremendous block in the second half.

Additionally, when Sulaimon hit him with a gorgeous assist, rather than hesitating, as brother Mason tended to do, Marshall took it up with authority.

He still needs time, but Plumlee is coming on quickly.

Hood's illness was unfortunate, but we didn't realize until after the game how invisible the usually irrepressible Tyler Thornton was. He played just 14 minutes, made two free throws, grabbed two boards and had three assists.

Let's suppose for a minute that both Hood and Thornton were ill and consider the game in that light.

Duke got stronger as the game went on because Eastern Michigan was within eight with 14:52 left in the game. Their zone flustered Duke to some extent.

Yet Duke outscored EMU (did no one think of using an Emu as a mascot instead of a boring old eagle?) 39-24. That could've been a lot worse had Eastern Michigan not scored some easy points in garbage time.

In addition to having two starters play at (apparently) less-than-full-strength, Josh Hairston played just 11 minutes.

Duke also pounded EMU on the board as we mentioned, 47-32, held the Eagles to 37.5% and 4-18 from behind the line for 22.2%.

And don't make the mistake of thinking that the Blue Devils did this to a weak team. Eastern Michigan is actually pretty good. Their four losses come to Kentucky by 18, #21 UMass by 12, Big Ten power Purdue by just five and now a 23-point loss to Duke.

It's a pretty good team. It just ran into a chainsaw in a Duke team that may have rediscovered two starters in Jefferson and Sulaimon.

All in all, it was a pretty great day for Coach K's Devils. Now let's see how they build on it.

Update - we neglected to put Sulaimon in the Player Of The Game poll. He has been added.