NASSAU, Bahamas—Thursday evening, Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters that he had never been on a movie set. He added, though, that the setting for his team’s 89-71 victory against Minnesota felt like one.
Playing before about 4,000 fans at the Atlantis Paradise Island resort, in a court surrounded by bleachers constructed in the resort’s conference center ballroom, the lighting setup resulted in a dimmer light over the crowd more reminiscent of a theater than a stadium, and Krzyzewski reported that it was very hot on the court.
Both teams appeared to need time to adjust to the unusual setting. In the first 13 possessions—seven for Duke and six for Minnesota—each team shot 1-for-5 and committed two turnovers. The frenetic early pace of the game might have favored the Golden Gophers, but they failed to capitalize on their early chances.
“We were hoping that we could keep [the pace], but they showed great stamina and good resilience,” Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith said. “We had a number of opportunities when we did turn them over, that we couldn’t score, and it might have been different…if we could’ve converted some of those turnovers.”
After the early pandemonium, Mason Plumlee converted a pair of putbacks into a four-point lead for Duke, which they would not relinquish for the rest of the contest.
“I thought our guys handled the physicality of the game well,” Krzyzewski said. “We turned it over too much at the start, but after that I thought our offensive execution was really good.”
Those rebounds were just two of 17 on the night for the Blue Devil senior, who created problems for Minnesota all night in the paint. Smith reacted by rotating post players frequently to create different matchups for Plumlee, utilizing starting center Elliot Eliason, athletic 6-foot-9 forward Trevor Mbakwe and bruising 289-pound freshman Maurice Walker at different times.
“You just play your matchup,” Plumlee said. “If I’ve got a bigger, slower guy on me, I’m really going to run the floor hard. On a smaller guy, you’re going to post him deeper. You just look at your matchup and see where you can take advantage.”
Plumlee took advantage to the tune of 20 points on 6-for-11 shooting, plus an 8-for-10 performance from the line that saw him continue his much-improved free-throw shooting this season.
But Plumlee was just one of five scorers in double digits for Duke, as all five starters tallied more than 10 points. Senior guard Seth Curry’s highly efficient 25-point effort led all scorers, even as the 6-foot-1 Charlotte native continues to battle nagging leg injuries.
“We’ll see how he feels,” Krzyzewski said of Curry’s status for the remainder of the three-round Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, which runs through Saturday.
Curry made 8-of-11 shots from the field, including all three of his 3-point attempts. He showed excellent shooting touch on off-balance midrange jump shots and superb scoring instincts on a reverse layup in traffic.
His acrobatics often energized a sizable Duke faction in the crowd, but perhaps the most crucial points in the contest came from Quinn Cook. Showing a veteran’s maturity on the floor, Cook coolly drained several crucial shots in the contest.
“He’s not showing any weakness,” Krzyzewski said of Cook.
Minnesota’s physical style and outstanding athleticism enabled them to make more than a few highlight-reel plays during the game, and those types of plays can often key momentum shifts and runs. But Cook and the Blue Devils responded to Minnesota’s opportunistic play with relentlessly steady effort that consistently answered when the Golden Gophers threatened. After Plumlee’s early putbacks, it Cook’s 3-pointer extended the Duke lead to eight points and put the Blue Devils firmly in the director’s seat.
When the increasing physicality of the game at the end of the first half went unchecked by the officials, leading to visible Duke frustration, freshman Rasheed Sulaimon fouled Minnesota point guard Maverick Ahanmisi, who converted a 3-point play to bring the Golden Gophers back within five at the end of the first half. But Cook nailed a miraculous buzzer-beating 3-pointer that extended the lead back to eight going into the half and put momentum squarely back in Duke’s corner.
And when Minnesota star Rodney Williams—after being nearly silent in the first half with just four points—slammed a one-handed putback dunk early in the second half to cut a 10-point lead back to eight, and it looked as though he and his teammates might climb back into the game, Cook put in yet another critical 3-pointer.
It was this resilience, keyed by the sophomore point guard, that ultimately spelled doom for a talented Minnesota squad. None of the Golden Gopher scorers ever managed to get into a rhythm, and especially late in the second half, Minnesota never threatened a steadily-increasing Duke advantage.
“Duke hit every big shot that they needed to, no matter how good the defense was,” Williams said.
Despite the strong performance in the victory, the Blue Devils’ first turn in the Bahamian spotlight was not without its imperfections. The Golden Gophers outrebounded the Blue Devils overall, and the bench tallied just two points and one rebound on the night in just 44 collective minutes of action.
“Our bench isn’t that deep,” Krzyzewski said. “The guys coming off the bench are not coming off the bench as scorers.”
Smith tried to exploit this by playing 11 different players for seven minutes or more, but ultimately the Duke stars shined on the Paradise Island movie set.
“It’s a different environment,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s different for both teams, but when you don’t handle different, sometimes you lose. And we handled different well.”