Duke got off to a conventional start despite an unconventional opponent Friday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium, defeating Georgia State 74-55 in the season opener for both teams.
The victory continued the No. 8 Blue Devils’ streak of starting 1-0, which they have done in 13 straight seasons, but to earn a win Friday, they had to overcome Panther head coach Ron Hunter’s unusual zone defensive schemes.
“Most people don’t play [like Georgia State],” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. “They’re changing zone defenses and changing three-quarter court presses, and they’re good at it…. They could control the tempo because they put four ball-handlers out there.”
Krzyzewski also was unafraid to put extra ball-handlers on the floor, giving Tyler Thornton a mildly unexpected start at point guard but often inserting Quinn Cook alongside Thornton.
“They played me off the ball a little bit this week in practice,” Thornton said. “We tried a few different lineups. We’re both able to play on and off the ball. Coach is going to be able to use us in a lot of different ways this year.”
Krzyzewski praised Thornton for his defensive play, and the 6-foot-1 junior also drained 3-of-6 three-point attempts and scored 13 points while dishing out three assists. Seven different Duke players tallied at least one assist on the night, as the Blue Devils’ excellent passing led to 17 of 24 field goals being assisted. Thornton was not the only Blue Devil to perform well on the defensive end, as Georgia State managed just four assists to 16 turnovers.
The dual point guard look with Thornton and Cook was just one of several different lineups that Krzyzewski put on the floor during the course of the evening. He opened with Thornton in a three-guard set alongside Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon, but often utilized three players over 6-foot-8 with freshman Amile Jefferson playing the small forward position.
“We’ll look at those different things,” Krzyzewski said. “At times, you’re just going to have different lineups in there.”
Conspicuously, Alex Murphy did not appear in the game despite Duke’s liberal substitution patterns. Murphy was dressed to play, and Krzyzewski said that Murphy’s absence was merely a coach’s decision.
“We just didn’t get to where Alex would play,” Krzyzewski said. “But Alex has got to be able to play.”
Even without Murphy, seven different Blue Devils scored at least five points and played double-digit minutes. Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry joined Tyler Thornton in double digits, with Plumlee adding 14 rebounds to his 19 tallies.
Despite a strong overall performance, Plumlee’s Achilles heel from last season did re-appear in the form of poor free-throw shooting. He made just 3-of-7 from the charity stripe against the Panthers (0-1) after a subpar 52.8 percent performance last season.
In a contest in front of both old friends—Lefty Driesell, a Duke graduate who coached at Maryland from 1969 to 1986—and new—Semi Ojeleye, a high-school senior who recently committed to the Blue Devils, Duke’s pair of freshmen in particular soaked up the environment of playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The pair combined for 11 points and six rebounds, but they were two of the most vocal presences on the court. Jefferson gave enthusiastic encouragement to his teammates and egged on a noisy crowd, while Sulaimon showed he belonged in a Duke jersey by bringing out the Blue Devil trademark floor slap on defense in the second half.
“We got a roll going, so I wanted to get the fans going as well,” Sulaimon said. “I just tried to give energy to the crowd and give energy to the team.”
Sulaimon—who scored the first points of Duke’s season with a 3-pointer to make the score 3-2—was pleased to get the start but candid about his desire to continue improving.
“Wednesday they let me know I was going to be in the lineup to go in there and try to slow their point guard down,” Sulaimon said. “I didn’t think I did too good of a job. I think I did earlier on, but late in the game I let him get some easy buckets.”
Krzyzewski likewise praised Jefferson for his enthusiasm, but noted that the Philadelphia native and all of his teammates still have plenty to learn despite the good start to the season.
“Your exuberance was good, but let’s be exuberant after we get the ball,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re all doing a really good job for us, but we’ve just got to grow as a basketball team. That’s the main thing.”