EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—When you play for the winningest coach in college basketball history, sometimes good just is not good enough.
The No. 2 Blue Devils were in control from start to finish as they dispatched Temple 90-67 at the Izod Center Saturday afternoon, but head coach Mike Krzyzewski saw room for improvement in his team’s performance.
“We were winning on the scoreboard, but we have a higher standard for ourselves. He just thought that we weren’t going out there and playing Duke basketball,” freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. “We weren’t playing hard enough, we weren’t rebounding and we weren’t communicating on defense. Those were little things that could come back to bite us in the butt if we don’t nip it in the bud right now.”
Krzyzewski was not subtle about these feelings during the game, laying into his team during a number of timeouts throughout the contest. Nevertheless, following a convincing 23-point victory, Krzyzewski lauded his team for its maturity.
“I’ve had some great teams, but this team has a characteristic about it that the really outstanding teams I’ve had had,” Krzyzewski said. “And that is they fight—they fight together. They don’t play, they compete and they fight…. A little bit today at times I thought that they forgot about it but then they got right back.”
It did not take long for Duke (9-0) to extend its lead to double digits in the early-going, utilizing a 16-4 run midway through the first half, featuring the team’s sharpshooting from beyond the arc. The run was bookended by 3-pointers from Tyler Thornton and Seth Curry and gave the Blue Devils a 29-14 advantage with 8:01 remaining in the half.
Temple (6-1) could not stop Curry, who led all scorers with 23 points and knocked down five triples on the afternoon.
“Curry was great, absolutely great. [Quinn] Cook was great,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said. “As good as [Mason] Plumlee and [Ryan] Kelly were inside, the guys that just hammered us were Curry and Cook. [Curry] is just tough enough to say ‘I’m going to make this shot.’”
Cook put on one of his best offensive displays of the season in the victory, adding 14 points on 5-of-8 from the field and 3-of-4 from long range. He commanded both ends of the floor, adding three steals as well.
But the Blue Devils seemed to lack a spark in the first half on the defensive glass, being outrebounded by an undersized Owl squad 19-17—allowing 10 offensive rebounds—and coming away with just two steals. Temple’s shots began to fall from outside as the first half drew to a close, but Duke still held a comfortable 46-32 cushion heading into the locker room.
Picking up the defensive intensity in the second half, the Blue Devils finally seemed to fall into a groove on both ends of the floor. Holding Temple’s two leading scorers, senior guard Khalif Wyatt and senior forward Scootie Randall, to just 12 combined points in the contest, Duke’s pressure was relentless in the second half.
“We just came back in the locker room and got our focus back,” Sulaimon said. “We wanted to defend as a team and rebound collectively. We just went back out there, and I think that’s what makes us so much better this year, is that we see what we have to do in the second half and we go out there and adjust.”
The threes continued to rain down for the Blue Devils in the second half, with shots from Cook, Curry and Ryan Kelly keeping the game at a comfortable margin. Temple found a way to hang around in the second half and was able to draw back within 12 with 6:37 to play, but Curry took over once again, scoring seven straight points to push Duke’s lead back up 20 and put the game out of reach. Fittingly, he sealed his personal run with his final triple of the night.
Duke’s performance from outside even seemed to overshadow double-doubles by both of its big men, Plumlee and Kelly, who both struggled from the field throughout the game but got to the free throw line and contributed to the Blue Devils’ 22-for-29 performance from the charity stripe. Plumlee managed to record 16 points and 14 rebounds and Kelly added 14 points and 10 boards.
Temple, by contrast, rarely visited the foul line, hitting just 1-of-4 free throws.
As the Blue Devils head into the back half of their nonconference slate with contests against Cornell and Elon after an 11-day hiatus, Mason will likely not be the only Plumlee you see on the floor. His brother Marshall—who is yet to appear in a game for Duke after redshirting last season—warmed up with the team today and should be available the next time the Blue Devils take the floor.
“He’s really close. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play in the next two games,” Krzyzewski said. “He did practice the last couple of days, partially. So if we had to, he could have played today.”