Just a little more than five minutes into the game, Florida Gulf Coast’s surprisingly loud fans made themselves heard by chanting, “scoreboard” during the first media timeout. They probably should have waited a little bit to bring out the classic cheer, because the Cameron Crazies repeatedly responded in kind as Duke (3-0) built and protected a commanding lead.
After allowing the Eagles to put up 30 points in less than 15 minutes, the No. 9 Blue Devils went on a 30-0 run over the last 5:40 of the first half and the first two minutes of the second half, sending them to an 88-67 victory against Florida Gulf Coast. The run was the longest of that magnitude since the team went on a 26-0 run against Clemson in 1999.
“It’s demoralizing for them,” senior Mason Plumlee said of the run. “When you go that long without scoring a basket, guys, whether you want to or not, start pointing fingers and get frustrated. Once they do that, you know you’ve got them.”
Shutdown defense keyed the run. During the five minutes prior to the end of the first half, the Eagles had 11 possessions. Eight of those ended with turnovers, while only three resulted in missed shots. For a team that struggled on defense last year, such a commanding performance encouraging.
“It shows we’re becoming a better team defense,” Plumlee said. “Individually, we have good guys. Rasheed can really guard, Tyler can really guard, but I think to do something like that it shows that everybody is engaged. The help and the rotation are better, and you have a better team defense.”
Plumlee led the team in scoring with a career-high 28 points and tied for the team high with nine rebounds. In his most efficient game as a Blue Devil, Plumlee shot 9-of-11 from the field and 10-of-11 from the line.
“Guys got me easy shots,” Plumlee said. “I wasn’t shooting jumpers, so a lot of credit goes to Quinn [Cook] and Tyler [Thornton] finding me in good spots and then I got to the free throw line.”
Plumlee also credited his teammates for hitting outside shots to free him up in the paint. Freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon finished with 19 points, and Ryan Kelly added 14.
But Cook, who set a career high with nine assists, kept the offense running smoothly. Perhaps even more importantly, he also played an integral role in the defense with his relentless ball pressure.
“That was the key factor,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “[Florida Gulf Coast point guard Brett] Comer can really pass the ball. He didn’t have the assists like he normally has. I think against Miami he had eight assists and no turnovers. [Comer] controlled the game, so part of our game was to pressure him so he was paying attention to that guy putting pressure on him and not running halfcourt offense.”
Comer notched just three assists and five turnovers against Duke. On the whole, it was exactly the type of performance that has come to typify Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils. The team hit 19-of-23 free throws, forced 25 turnovers and rode the crowd’s energy to an enormous, game-changing run.
“When we’re in sync, when [the crowd] feels us and we feel them, that’s when it’s unbelievable and unbelievably fun to play in Cameron and to be in Cameron,” Kelly said. “That’s what we expect from them, and they have to expect from us that we’ll give them our best.”