Backcourt chemistry enhances offense
As he addressed the crowd in a postgame ceremony recognizing his achievement as the winningest NCAA Division I men's basketball coach in history Friday night, head coach Mike Krzyzewski quipped that at halftime of his team’s 82-69 victory over Davidson, he was not sure that there was going to be a celebration.
After a mental lapse from Miles Plumlee in the final seconds of the first half resulted in two made free throws for the Wildcats’ guard Tom Droney, Davidson (2-1) took a one-point lead into the locker room. Even with No. 6 Duke (4-0) shooting almost 57 percent from the field in the first half against the mid-major opponent, there were eight lead changes. The Blue Devils’ strong performance from the floor was offset by a 7-for-14 performance at the free throw line and seven turnovers. And the Wildcats’ timely 3-point shooting allowed them to answer each time Duke threatened to stretch the lead.
Davidson showed no signs of intimidation as it was aggressive from the opening tip, jumping out to a 9-5 lead at the first media timeout, paced by forward Jake Cohen’s five points. Cohen demonstrated an impressive inside-outside game, giving the Plumlee brothers fits as they were forced to step out and defend the perimeter, on his way to 10 points before intermission.
The backcourt duo of Seth Curry and Austin Rivers carried Duke for much of the first half. The guards each had nine points as Rivers showed his electric first-step, getting all the way to the rim almost at will. Perhaps more importantly, though, the pair played better together and did a good job of finding each other on offense.
“We make this team go,” Curry said. “Every game, we’re getting more comfortable playing together. I’m starting to know where he likes the ball and vice-versa.”
In the locker room, Krzyzewski challenged his players to step up and defend their home floor by picking up the intensity on the defensive end of the court. And he got the response he was looking for, as Duke would hold the Wildcats to just 35-percent shooting in the second half. The defensive improvements translated into points as the Blue Devils emerged from the break with an offensive explosion, scoring 30 points in the first 10 minutes of the second period.
“In the second half, people stepped up and started playing defense,” Rivers said. “We started pushing the ball and getting a lot of transition buckets as a result.”
Four minutes into the second half, Mason Plumlee fired a long outlet pass to his brother Miles, who was streaking down the court. The elder Plumlee finished the play with an emphatic reverse dunk that would not only ignite the Cameron crowd but also start a 12-0 run that would stake Duke to a double-digit lead it would not give up. During this run, the Blue Devils forced three turnovers and several bad shots, allowing them to get out in the open court and utilize their superior athleticism.
Even in the half court, Duke displayed a newly discovered emphasis on getting the ball into the post. Both the Plumlee brothers receieved entry passes on numerous occasions and made the most of these opportunities, showing well-honed back-to-the-basket moves that had not been on display in previous seasons. Mason posted a double-double, finishing with 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Miles chipped in 10 points to go along with his four rebounds.
“We’re just being aggressive, really wanting the ball on the block,” Miles Plumlee said. “It’s a new season, a new role for the big guys. We’re starting to assume that position down low.”
To go along with the improved scoring output from the post, Curry and Rivers both continued their strong play, finishing tied as the game’s high scorers at 17 points a piece. With freshman point guard Quinn Cook logging significant minutes, Curry was able to play off the ball some and thrived in this role, knocking down two wing 3-pointers to help put the game out of reach.
Rivers, Curry, and the Plumlee brothers carried the Blue Devils on Friday as Andre Dawkins was quiet, just a game after his long-range shooting barrage against Michigan State. This uncertainty as to who is going to lead the team on any given night is something that Krzyzewski said he expects.
“We’re going to have fluctuation like that,” Krzyzewski said. “If we get to a point where all of them are playing well consistently....the only way to get there is to compete and gain experience.”
On this particular night, the defense was able to give the team a big enough lift to ensure that university president Richard Brodhead, athletic director Kevin White, former athletic director Tom Butters and ACC commissioner John Swofford were all able to honor Krzyzewski in the touching postgame cerermony.