clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Duke Beats Michigan State, 71-61

Playing Tom Izzo's Michigan State team is, really, an honor. The games though are never, ever easy. And while Duke seized a second-half advantage, this one wasn't easy either.

[poll id="258"]

Playing the Spartans means you have to play hard-nosed, tough-minded basketball and that you'll probably leave with some bruises.

Fortunately, the Devils were up to it.

Duke took an eight-point advantage in the first half which Michigan State negated in the last three and a half minutes or so.

In the first three minutes of the second half, Seth Curry personally reclaimed it, plus one, hitting three threes in a row. But what was really impressive was the defense: Duke shut down a very potent offense. And by shut down we mean they scored one basket at the 19:41 mark, one at the 18:12 mark, then one at the 12:05 mark...and then nothing until the 3:32 mark.

This was one of Curry's absolute best games at Duke; the senior was superb.

The Spartans did score four baskets in the last 3:30, but by that point Duke was well in control and chose not to contest several of those.

You know, that's a tremendous performance, but after watching what Michigan State did to Memphis, it moves from tremendous to near stunning.

This is not a team lacking in talent. Derrick Nix is probably their least talented scorer (starter anyway), because he's, well, fairly earthbound. But Nix is a clever scorer and an even cleverer passer. Adreian Payne, still growing into his body, is a guy with three point range, a power game under the basket, and an immense natural talent for the game.

Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, Gary Harris, Travis Trice and Darnell Valentine are all gifted athletes and skilled players.  Despite all these players and all their talents, despite being extraordinarily well coached, they couldn't score.

So how did Duke do it? Well, if you look back a few weeks, Duke's defense took a lot of criticism, which coincided with Ryan Kelly's absence. His return has done a lot of things. Coach K has frequently hailed him as the best communicator on the team. He also switches fairly seamlessly and is smart enough to see things develop and to stop them before they come to fruition.

You really can't put a value on those skills.

He also helped to double team Nix, and it got to the big man, who had nine points and nine rebounds, but just one assist. But Duke also did a superb job on freshman Gary Harris.

Harris had 23 against Memphis, but against Duke he finished with just six. On one sequence, he missed a layup, lost Curry on defense (who promptly hit  a three) and then panicked on a pass.

We thought Duke had an advantage in experience since Michigan State is a fairly young team and that worked out well for Duke. There was, however, one thing we didn't anticipate, nor, we're guessing, did Duke - or for that matter, Michigan State.

Quinn Cook had an inexplicably bad game. That Duke controlled the Spartans without him is a measure of how well Duke played.

We should hasten to add here that as of shortly after the game no one offered an explanation for Cook's poor performance. As fans, we all too often focus on the result rather than admit that these demigods of the hardwood have lives outside of the gym. We never hear about most injuries and certainly not family or girlfriend issues.

Whatever it is, we hope that Cook will be okay. They need him for Louisville.

Fortunately for Duke, his backup, Tyler Thornton, was superb. He set the tone early with his hard foul on Nix. He also hit a three which was timely. But his best play was running down a Michigan State player on a break and denying him a layup. That's sort of a statement play, really: we don't care what you do, we're not letting you back in this.

Duke also got a very solid game out of Rasheed Sulaimon, who has had a really good tournament to date. He was increasingly effective on offense in the second half, and his defense was good throughout.

And while he was largely unsung, Josh Hairston, in limited minutes, was effective. Duke had no letdown while he was on the court.

That might sound like faint praise, but think about it: he's never going to be a star. His role is to support and relieve the starters. If he does that later as well as he did it in this game, Duke will be very happy.

Now it's on to an Elite Eight matchup with Rick Pitino which, of course, is where the 1992 Duke team met his Kentucky team for their legendary matchup in the Spectrum. There's no doubt in our mind that that will be on his mind. It'll be a presence for Duke - how could it not be? - but not a motivating factor. How Duke handles this will be important. And it would be very nice to have Cook running the point with his usual aplomb.

We'd like to reiterate just how much respect we have for Michigan State. If we weren't Duke fans, we'd seriously consider pulling for the Spartans. They just do things the right way. We wish they could keep playing too.