In recent years, Duke’s strength has been its prolific shooting from the perimeter. In Thursday night’s exhibition game against Division II Winston-Salem State, however, the Blue Devils’ interior post presence carried the team.
With the team shooting a paltry 1-for-17 from three-point range, Duke forwards Mason Plumlee and Amile Jefferson were forced to pick up the slack. And they delivered with 19 points and 13 points, respectively, to help the No. 8 Blue Devils earn a 69-45 victory in the team’s final preseason tune up.
“I don’t know if we broke a record for lowest 3-point percentage,” Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski said
Jefferson, a 6-foot-8 freshman, brought some much needed energy to a game that lacked it, with the two teams combining for just 30 points midway through the first half. He was active defensively and finished at the rim exceptionally well, shooting 6-for-10 from the field.
“Amile is that guy that doesn’t have a position,” Krzyzewski said. “But when he comes in, the life-meter goes up. He is more enthusiastic than the crowd.”
Thursday’s contest was also the first action of the season for senior shooting guard Seth Curry, who has been hampered by a lower leg injury for about a month. The veteran only played 17 minutes and struggled to find his shooting touch, converting on only 1-of-9 attempts and finishing with four points.
“I was excited being out there because I haven’t played 5-on-5 in about a month,” Curry said. “I just didn’t have a rhythm at all, but I am not worried about my jump shot.”
2012/11/01 MBB vs. Winston-Salem State - Images by Duke Student Publishing Co. Duke Chronicle
To start the game, Duke was unable to find a consistent rhythm and only led 12-7 with 11:27 left in the first half. That soon changed when redshirt sophomore Alex Murphy got loose in the open court and delivered a thunderous slam at the 10:34 mark. Although it was Murphy’s lone bucket, the dunk gave the team some much-needed energy.
Following Murphy’s dunk, the team’s defense picked up considerably, only giving up six points the rest of the half. The improvement defensively was a point of emphasis after surrendering 87 points last week to Western Washington. The Blue Devils held the Rams to just 5-for-30 shooting from the field. Drawing a charge and blocking a shot, Jefferson’s intensity and play in the closing minutes of the half helped Duke build a 36-13 lead heading into the locker room.
“First half, they did a very good job defending us and taking away our offensive sets,” Winston-Salem State head coach Bobby Collins said. “They are Duke. And they are long, athletic and strong, and it showed when we were trying to execute our plays.”
Winston-Salem State responded by scoring the first four points to open the second half. Given their shooting woes from the perimeter, the Blue Devils continued to feed Plumlee in the post where he delivered consistently against the outsized Rams’ frontcourt. He finished 7-for-7 from the field.
“Mason has been really good,” Krzyzewski said. “He has had 22 [points] and 11 [rebounds], and 19 and 10 [in the two exhibition games]. That’s who he is. I think that’s the norm.”
Despite its size advantage, Duke struggled to dominate the glass—only out-rebounding Winston-Salem State by two on the night—and was less successful in its half-court execution in the second half.
Leading comfortably the entire second half, the Blue Devils regained some momentum when freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon found a wide-open Jefferson under the rim, converting the three-point play after being fouled. The score gave Duke a 54-29 lead with 9:40 left in the game.
Sulaimon, who finished with 12 points, dished to Jefferson for another bucket in the final minutes when the game was out of reach. The freshman duo’s chemistry and immediate impact thus far in the season has been one of the biggest stories, especially in light of the team’s injuries.
“Playing with Rasheed, being each others’ roommates… has really helped us to build a bond,” Jefferson said.
In addition to its inability to control the boards, Duke was unable to sustain the first-half defensive effort, giving up 32 points, even though it largely neutralized the Rams’ most dangerous offensive weapon—guard Justin Glover, who scored nine points.
Luckily for the Blue Devils, Winston-Salem State also struggled to shoot the ball effectively, shooting 2-for-11 from 3-point range and 9-of-22 at the charity stripe, preventing them from ever coming within striking distance.
On a night where starters Murphy and Ryan Kelly were very quiet, scoring only a combined seven points, the freshmen duo stepped up big to complement Plumlee anchoring the post.
“I’m so glad we have those two guys,” Plumlee said.