Blue Devils Ride a Plumlee to a Win

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WHAT JUST HAPPENED:
The Duke Blue Devils finally got tested and they passed. After jumping out to a 14-point lead early, Marquette slowly battled back, chipping away at Duke’s lead. They finally caught the Blue Devils at 53 with roughly 11 minutes to play. Yet, Duke held their composure, re-gained the momentum and escaped with a five-point win.

THE TURNING POINT WAS…
…at the 10:20 mark in the second half, Mason Plumlee grabbed an offensive rebound off a Kyrie Irving miss. That single rebound was the deciding factor. Here me out.

At that point, all the Golden Eagles needed was the lead. They had been battling back the entire game and when they finally tied the game up, the crowd suddenly got excited. Yet, after exchanging two baskets each, Marquette just needed to get that lead. If they did, you just knew the crowd would suddenly be rocking in their favor.

When Irving missed that open three, Marquette had their chance, but Mason Plumlee stuck his giant paw out, grabbed it and got it out to Nolan Smith. Three-point shot…nothing but net.

Just like that, the air went out of the building. Seconds later, Dawkins stole the ball and laid it in. The back-to-back baskets without Marquette scoring was the first time that had happen since the 11-minute mark in the first half.

WHO DESERVES MAD PROPS
This one was easy. Mason Plumlee had a career night, scoring 25, grabbing 12 boards and swatting away five balls on the defensive end. He hit a Double-Dribble like 12 of 16 shots from the floor. The simple fact was, the Golden Eagles could not handle his length and dare I say, athleticism.

While Plumlee got off to a hot start, in the end, he just dominated. He scored 12 of Duke’s last 18 points. He simply looked unstoppable. The irony is, there still is a lot of room for improvement. He only hit 1-4 from the free throw line tonight. He’s only 5-13 for the season. That’s terrible.

More importantly, he’s still learning how to use his hands down low. Watch him. He still tends to fumble the ball around. Tonight it didn’t matter. Once he had control, there was little Marquette could do.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT…
…Nolan Smith. He’s become Mr. Whatever-You-Need. If Duke needs scoring, he can do that. Need him to run the point? No problem. Tonight, he scored 18, but just two days after dishing out nine assists, he grabbed nine rebounds this time around. Also, don’t forget it was his three that broke up that 57-57 tie.

LOSERS NEED LOVE TO:
Marquette senior forward, Jimmy Butler scored 22, almost all of it in the paint, while being guarded by Kyle Singler. I also want to give some minor props to Davante Gardner. Marquette’s big man played with a bum shoulder, yet scored nine points (grabbing four offensive rebounds) in only 15 minutes. One has to believe this team is a lot better if he’s 100-percent.

GOD I LOVE STATS: Did you know that Duke is currently riding a 20-game winning streak? Watch out UConn women! The last time the Blue Devils tasted defeat was March 3, 2009 against Maryland in College Park.

THREE FROM THE TOP OF THE KEY:

DEFENSE ISN’T JUST ABOUT BLOCKING
The Duke Blue Devils finished with 10 blocks tonight. That’s a great number. Blocks are a sexy stat, but defense isn’t just about sex appeal. The best low-block defense barely registers on the stat sheet. Tonight, the Golden Eagles had success in one key area, interior scoring. Too often, players like Davante Gardner, Chris Otule, Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder were able to establish positions in the paint and out-muscle Duke’s front line.

Yes, Duke’s height and athleticism helped them swat away 10 balls, but overall those four players shot a solid 21-38 from within 15-feet or closer…most of which came in the paint.

Now great interior defense is a two-prong attack. First, it starts up top. Duke’s guards need to do a better job of denying the passing lane. Too often, Marquette guards were able to work the ball down low unchallenged or worse yet, were able to drive into the lane, forcing the Duke big man to come over for help.

Secondly, the big men need to do a better job at not letting their opponent establish such great position down low. Duke’s big men are not wide and I certainly wouldn’t call them strong. Tonight, they simply got out-muscled on the defensive end.

IRVING NEEDS A MID-RANGE GAME
Watching freshman Kyrie Irving drive to the basket is a thing of beauty. From my television set, there were at least two or three times I couldn’t believe he didn’t take a third step. He does an amazing job of splitting the trees at the top of the key. However, there are two things I’m starting to notice.

First, when Irving drove to the basket in Duke’s half-court offense, he always brought the ball up on the left side of the court and he always, always drove with his right to the right of the top of the key. Now Jason Williams was the same way when he was a freshman. For a long time, I thought Williams lacked a left-hand. However, by his sophomore year, he still preferred his right, but he would go to his left enough to keep the defenders off balance.

Eventually, defenders are going to simply start sitting on his right hand. Irving needs to get comfortable working to his left with his left into the lane to remain effective.

Secondly, every time Irving drove, he went all the way. At some point, opponents are going to see this and will simply collapse with him, forcing him to throw up circus shots among the trees. In fact, I saw some of that tonight. Eventually he’s going to need to take and hit some 8-10 foot mid-range shots to keep those big men guessing in the paint.

TIGHTENING UP THE ROTATION
Clearly Coach K wanted to win this. Despite the fact that Duke would need to turn around and play another one tomorrow, Coach K decided to tighten up the rotation. Duke did rotate nine-men in, but mostly it was guards. Josh Hairston got a DNP, while Ryan Kelly and Miles Plumlee only played 21 combined minutes Monday night. Duke opted for more three-guard looks, as Singler, Smith, Irving and Mason all played 32+ minutes, with Kyle leading the pack at 38 minutes played.

FINAL DEEP THOUGHTS:
A win is a win and I’ve never been one to complain about a win. Duke received their first challenge tonight and they handled it well. More importantly, someone new seems to step up every night. In game one, it was the seniors, Singler and Smith. Against Miami, Curry had the hot hand. Against Colgate, Irving nearly had a double-double and tonight, Mason was the man in the middle.

Having said that, after watching Kansas State play twice this season, the Wildcats look like the better team right now…at least when they want to be. They crushed both Virginia Tech and Gonzaga, but struggled to put away Presbyterian. The fact that this game will feel like a home game for K-State only adds to their advantage.

For Duke to win, they’ll need to improve on a handful of things. First, rebounding. No, this team is not being dominated on the boards, but overall they don’t have the same mentality as they did last year. Before Mason Plumlee went all “one-man show” against Marquette, Duke had only two offensive rebounds.

Secondly and probably most importantly, for a team full of young, speedy guards, they have struggled to defend the passing lanes. Against Marquette, Duke only stole the ball four times all game. Kyrie Irving has yet to get aggressive on the defensive end. He’s produced only foue steals all season long.

Kansas State is a tough, aggressive team. You beat them by taking the ball away from them.

Last but not least, Duke will need to avoid that lazy stretch. In every game, there has been a 4-6 minute stretch where Duke seems to relax. That’s when the turnovers start to come. Against Marquette, the Blue Devils turned it over 19 times to Marquette’s 14. During one eight-minute stretch towards the end of the first half, Duke turned it over eight times. They can get away with that when they are facing a middle-of-the-pack Big East team. They won’t get away with it against Kansas State.