For all of the talk coming into the season about a potentially changing landscape in college basketball towards a freshman dominated game, Duke’s 75-68 victory over #3 Kentucky proved why experience is still a much valued commodity.
Seniors Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee led the Blue Devils to an impressive early season victory as Plumlee dominated the first half against Kentucky’s highly heralded freshmen center, Nerlens Noel. Plumlee recorded 14 of his 18 points in the first 15 minutes of the game and provided the Blue Devils with a huge interior scoring threat during the first half.
Conversely, Curry stepped up in the final 15 minutes of the game tallying 14 of his game-high 23 points while Plumlee had to sit out for an extended period of time when he picked up his fourth foul with over 10 minutes left in the game. Curry shot 3-for-5 from beyond the arc and a perfect 6-6 from the foul line that included crucial free throws in the final minute of the game that put it out of reach. Plumlee was also perfect from the charity stripe, knocking down all four of his free throws while shooting 7-for-8 from the field.
Despite shooting 3-for-14 from the floor, freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon proved to be important for Duke as well since as he hit all three of his three-pointers in the second half including one that sparked an 11-5 run after Plumlee went to the bench when he picked up his fourth foul. Although he didn’t make any of his attempts inside the arc, Sulaimon showed he’s capable of getting to the basket and creating his own shot while knowing when to dish it out or drop it off to the big man in the post.
Curry and Plumlee also showed something that you can’t see in the box score — Curry with his composure in late-game situations while coming up big in clutch moments and Plumlee with his maturity and changed mindset around the basket. This is exactly the type of performance Duke fans expect out of Plumlee and what he’ll need to do if they hope to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. The senior big man constantly attacked the basket and was aggressive around the rim. As Dick Vitale said during the in-game broadcast, Plumlee will have to be a Player of the Year candidate if the Blue Devils hope to be National Championship contenders.
Going forward, it will be intriguing to see the time split between point guard Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton after Cook registered seven points, three rebounds and three assists in 30 minutes whereas Thornton posted two points, three rebounds and two assists in 20 minutes of play. Cook is the guard with a higher ceiling and gives Duke a better shot at winning as he continues to develop but Thornton remains a valuable contributor.
The Blue Devils will next be in action Sunday at 8pm on ESPNU as they take on Florida Gulf Coast and try to improve to 3-0 before heading to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. There, Duke will face Minnesota November 22 at 3:30 and face either Memphis or VCU in their second round game.