updated 1:30 a.m. Oct. 29
Although Western Washington was able to match Duke in stretches of the season’s first exhibition game, in the end, the Vikings were just too small.
The No. 8 Blue Devils’ height advantage proved pivotal, guiding them to a comfortable 105-87 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday afternoon against the reigning Division II national champions.
“That was a really good basketball game. I like their team so much. You can tell why they won the Division II championship,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “This tradition for us to play the Division II champions has worked out extremely well because you’re always playing a team that believes it can win and is extremely well coached.”
Senior captains Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly led the team with 22 points each. Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon stole much of the show, however, with 18 of his 20 points coming in the first half on 6-of-8 shooting.
From the opening tip, Sulaimon’s aggressiveness and maturity was evident. He registered the game’s first two points on a strong drive to the basket, getting fouled in the process.
“He had an unbelievable first half. It started off with the first play. We had called a certain thing, and he made a read, that was opposite of what the play was, but it was the right read,” Krzyzewski said. “For a freshman on his first play to have the guts to make a read and follow his instincts, it’s impressive for me.”
Sulaimon’s effort was supplemented by Amile Jefferson, who added 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Jefferson did not start the game, but played 19 minutes off the bench. His passion and energy were evident throughout the game with emotional reactions, especially after a big stuff in the second half.
“I want to one day be a leader and let my voice guide us,” Jefferson said. “Even now I’m going to be animated and be vocal. I’m going to be screaming, yelling, just getting guys into the game so we don’t have any plays off. If the energy’s not there I’m going to pick it right up, or if it is there I’m keeping it at that same level or taking it even higher. I just want to keep the team playing at a high level for 40 minutes.”
Redshirt freshman Alex Murphy earned the starting nod on the wing, finishing with six points, four rebounds and two blocks.
Krzyzewski was impressed with the performance of his young players, especially going against a veteran Viking squad that went down to the wire against Washington earlier this week. With Sulaimon only being 18 years old, Krzyzewski singled out Western Washington’s John Allen, who is 23. Allen and Viking forward Paul Jones, who is also 23, combined for 37 points.
“They’re fearless. They are strong. They caused a lot of turnovers,” Krzyzewski said of the Vikings. “To see our young kids play so well in their first outing … they did a good job….That’s the sort of team you lose to in the season on a team with young guys.”
The Vikings kept up with the Blue Devils in the early going, matching Duke shot for shot and trailing by seven points with 6:30 minutes to play in the first half. At that point, the Blue Devils called a timeout and subsequently went on a 13-0 run to build a comfortable lead.
The closest Western Washington came after that was within 11 points behind six minutes into the second period.
“We got loose with the ball. When you get a double-figure lead, you can let up a little bit. I thought we let up, then boom, they pounced on it because they’re a really good team,” Krzyzewski said. “Every time we came out of a timeout, we executed exactly what we wanted and I like that, it shows we are paying attention.”
The size advantage Duke held and differing playing styles resulted in foul trouble for the Vikings. Western Washington had eight team fouls in the second half before the Blue Devils recorded their first.
The Vikings’ cause was not helped when 6-foot-9 Austin Bragg fouled out midway through the second half. That left Chris Mitchell, also 6-foot-9, as the only player with height to match Duke’s Kelly, Plumlee and Jefferson. Mitchell had to keep them in check while playing with four fouls.
The Blue Devils outrebounded Western Washington 41-34, but the Vikings earned themselves a number of second chances with 18 offensive rebounds, four more than Duke.
The Blue Devils’ limited roster, with Marshall Plumlee and Seth Curry sidelined with injuries, also meant less variety in Duke’s rotations. Curry’s absence often led to Duke playing a sizier lineup, with Jefferson and Josh Hairston registering minutes at small forward.
“I thought our size got to them,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re more of an outside team that’s going to take jump shots, but we’ve pounded it inside. We can get them to commit a few more fouls because of that balance. They presented some problems because they can spread the floor on us.”
As the game ended the difference in class showed, but Krzyzewski said that this was a great game for his younger players to adapt to college basketball and for the seniors to adapt to their new roles on the team.
And even though it was against a Division II program, the team learned a lot from its first time on the floor for competitive action.
“Both our freshmen played great. They’re both confident, Rasheed played great. His defense throughout the game was great,” Plumlee said. “I think we showed we’ve come a long way in a short period of practice. We’ve got to build on this.”