Mason Plumlee and Rasheed Sulaimon lifted #2 Duke (7-0) to a 73-68 victory over #4 Ohio State (4-1) Wednesday night as the Blue Devils came back from a double-digit deficit in the second half to win their 97th straight non-conference home game.
Plumlee solidified his spot at the top of the National Player of the Year race with a dominant 21-point, 17-rebound outing (both game-highs) in which he kept Duke in the game in the first half. Plumlee scored 10 of Duke’s 23 first half points and continued his much-improved free throw shooting as he knocked down 9-of-12 attempts. He also threw down an electrifying alley-oop in transition from Quinn Cook that gave the Blue Devils all of the momentum in the second half.
Despite Plumlee’s incredible performance, Sulaimon stole the show in the second half as he scored all 17 of his points in the final 20 minutes of the game on 7-for-10 shooting. Duke shot 58% as a team in the second half and guards Tyler Thornton, Seth Curry, Cook and Sulaimon did a much better job of handling Ohio State’s superb defense. In the first half, the Blue Devils had a lot of trouble initiating the offense but they had better ball movement and Cook was more aggressive in attacking the basket after the break.
Although he fouled out and played less than 30 minutes, Ryan Kelly had a critical 15 points that included one triple to tie the game in the second half and then another that gave Duke its first lead in over 30 minutes, an advantage it never relinquished. He also had three blocks but recorded just three rebounds, something the Blue Devils really struggled with in the first half.
Throughout much of the first 20 minutes of the game, Ohio State had more offensive rebounds than Duke did total rebounds. The Blue Devils’ poor defensive rebounding finally came back to haunt them as they were barely able to hang in there due to Ohio State’s many second-chance points. However, Duke did a better job of rebounding in the second half as the guards got involved and they made a clear team effort to limit the Buckeyes’ second-chance opportunities.
The Blue Devils’ second leading rebounder, Cook, made much-needed second half adjustments that not only opened up a few scoring opportunities for himself but more importantly opportunities that led to buckets for his teammates. Cook, who posted 12 points, eight assists and six rebounds, penetrated the paint considerably more after the break and did a good job of handling Aaron Craft‘s pressure. Cook spent less time pounding the ball into the hardwood and more time giving it up to Duke’s scorers in the second half.
Although there are a lot of positives to take out of this game for Blue Devil fans, there’s also a question mark on how bad Seth Curry’s leg injury is getting. It bothered him to the point where he had to be taken out during the second half (he was later inserted at the very end of the game) and it only continues to get worse and worse. Although he wasn’t needed tonight (Curry tallied just four points on 1-of-6 shooting), it goes without saying that he’s a very valuable player and someone who will be needed in March.
Taking a step back and looking at Duke’s season as a whole so far, it’s incredibly impressive what they’ve been able to do. The Blue Devils are 3-0 against then-ranked top-5 teams (#2 Kentucky (4-1), #3 Louisville (5-1) and #4 Ohio State) while the rest of the nation is 0-30 in the same category. Duke only plays six or seven guys who get meaningful minutes on a consistent basis (Thornton and Josh Hairston) but they still managed to win four tough games in the past week.
Outside of their highly-ranked opponents, victories over Minnesota and VCU are also impressive and deserve praise. The Blue Devils have an easier Delaware squad up next as they play another home game Saturday at 2pm; a match-up that will be aired on ESPN3.