By quickly putting a large lead in between themselves and their opponent, the Blue Devils made Saturday’s game more about themselves than Delaware.
Despite playing without one of the team’s leading scorers in senior guard Seth Curry, who sat out with a left ankle injury, No. 2 Duke (8-0)—led by its big man duo of Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee—never let up in its domination of Delaware (2-6) en route to an 88-50 victory.
“The way we played for 40 minutes—it was different than you would expect, different in a very positive way,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Sometimes in these situations, our fifth game in 10 days, there is a chance for a letdown and we didn’t have that tonight…. Instead they continued to play hard.”
Without anyone taller than 6-foot-9, Delaware struggled to contain Duke’s big men. Both Plumlee and Kelly finished with 18 points, despite playing just 24 minutes each, and Plumlee added 11 boards. Despite the duo sitting for a combined 13 minutes in the second half, the Blue Devils finished with 40 points in the paint—14 more than Delaware.
Kelly got off to a good start in the Blue Devils’ win, scoring the game’s first two buckets on a smooth jumper off a pump-fake and then a layup. The senior’s mid-range shot was on all afternoon, as he went 6-for-9 from inside the arc and was able to slash through the Blue Hens’ zone to create his own shots.
“I’m pretty confident, especially with my midrange jumper,” he said. “That’s something that I know I have in the bank a little bit, and when you know teams go to 2-3 zones I love getting to that free throw line area. I’m confident I’ll knock those shots down.”
The Blue Hens also fell victim to the Duke’s size and athleticism on the other side of the court, as they were rarely able to create an uncontested shot. Delaware finished the game shooting just 27.7 percent from the field.
“It was real frustrating,” Delaware guard Devon Saddler said. “We usually make our shots and today our shots just weren’t falling, so it was frustrating.”
Duke was without Curry from the start due to an ankle injury he sustained in the second half of Wednesday’s victory over Ohio State. Curry’s absence did not appear to slow the Blue Devils though, despite the fact that his replacement, junior guard Tyler Thornton scored just three points in the game. Thornton made his presence felt in other aspects of the game though, as he dished out 10 assists and was able to grab six rebounds.
“[Thornton is] such an easy guy to play with,” Krzyzewski said. “We can plug him in anywhere—he’s a winner.”
Thornton’s teammates in the backcourt, sophomore Quinn Cook and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon, each added six assists and turned the ball over just three times combined.
“[The passing is] great because you have to respect us,” Cook said. “I can dish the ball, Rasheed can score and dish the ball, and Tyler can dish the ball, so you know, we’re always looking for our teammates and looking for open players.”
The Blue Devil lead, which built steadily throughout the game and never dipped below 36 in the final 10 minutes of play, translated into increased playing time for Duke’s bench players. That has rarely been the case this season with Duke's starters 92 percent of the team's points entering Saturday.
Redshirt freshman Alex Murphy and freshman Amile Jefferson each played a career-high 21 minutes while Josh Hairston was limited to just 11 minutes due to foul trouble. All three played in the first half, but were given the reins for the final 10 minutes of the game with the win firmly in hand.
“Some guys didn’t [play] as many minutes as they would’ve liked it, but I think it’s good for developing our bench,” Plumlee said. “Josh has played more than the other guys, but for them to grow they have to not only do it in practice but also in the game, and that’s why I thought this game was big for them.”
Senior walk-on Todd Zafirovski scored his first two points in the win, much to the delight of the Cameron Crazies who began chanting "We want Todd" in the second half. Zafirovski also added a rebound and block.
Perhaps the only aspect in which the Blue Devils came up short was defensive rebounding. After Ohio State grabbed 18 offensive rebounds Wednesday, Duke allowed Delaware 14 second-chance opportunities while creating just 10 for themselves.
Despite the great opportunity his bench players had to develop, Krzyzewski was happiest about the play of his team as a whole after the game.
“I feel good about everybody’s play today. Everybody played well today,” he said. “Not one guy played less well than the other guy. They were terrific together.”