Duke’s debut as the No. 1 team in the nation was a tale of two games.
After getting off to a slow start—trailing or tying the Cornell Big Red for most of the first seven minutes—the Blue Devils were finally able to get past its lagging defense and missed shots toward halftime, which would prove to be a tipping point.
Duke came out strong in the second half, going on a 19-0 run in the first six minutes to come out with a 88-47 victory against the Big Red.
Although the Blue Devils (10-0) were able to improve the shooting in the second half, the first half was characterized by missed shots from behind the arc and a lack of rebounds.
Duke was 3-of-11 from deep and only picked up 10 rebounds in the first half. Meanwhile, Cornell (4-7) shot 54.2 percent from the field in the first half, a sizable improvement over the team’s season rate, which is below 40 percent.
The Blue Devils were able to prove their No. 1 ranking in the second-half, however, scoring as many second-half points as Cornell scored all night. The Big Red, which didn’t make a second-half bucket until 13:31 remaining in the game, largely relied on forward Shonn Miller, who has consistently led the Big Red in points. Standing at only 6-foot-7, however, Miller was no match for Duke’s big men.
The slow start for the Devils was largely attributable to the 11-day gap since the team’s last game.
“To be honest, it was just us,” said freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon. “We were very rusty—we didn’t get defensive rebounds, we didn’t get loose balls and we didn’t finish plays, so [head coach Mike Krzyzewski] just told us to pick it up.”
Sulaimon, who scored six of Duke’s first 12 points, ended up being integral in turning on Duke’s defense. Leading the team in steals, Sulaimon helped the Blue Devils force 26 turnovers throughout the night. With six steals just in the second half—all of which were converted into baskets—the Blue Devils were easily able to hold off Cornell, which only scored 17 points after halftime.
“I didn’t think we were ready defensively, and [the Big Red] were good,” Krzyzewski said of the first half. “They were really good at pushing the ball up, and I didn’t think we had the emotion that we needed to play defense. And I think the last eight minutes of the first half we started getting it… and the second half we were terrific.”
Redshirt freshman Marshall Plumlee, who has missed the beginning part of the season with a stress fracture in his foot, marked his season debut with one defensive rebound and one block, but his big moment was cut short. After entering the game within the first five minutes, the youngest Plumlee brother suffered a slight sprain in his foot that put him on the bench for the rest of the game.
“There was a little slight sprain, and we weren’t completely sure, you know,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s too bad, he would have had a lot of minutes tonight. “
Krzyzewski said it was unclear whether Marshall would play in Thursday night’s faceoff against Elon, but said that he “probably wouldn’t be available.” Marshall Plumlee was not available for comment after the game.
Although Duke’s three leading scorers—Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Sulaimon—yet again dominated the scoreboard, players were quick to praise sophomore Quinn Cook, who recorded a career-high 12 assists throughout the night.
“It felt like he had more than that the way he was setting them up,” said Mason Plumlee, who had 18 points and led the team with nine rebounds. “He’s been setting me up really nice, and making my job easier.”
Although he was hesitant to compare point guards, Mason Plumlee said that Cook is “in that category of point guards” that includes former players Kyrie Irving and Jon Scheyer.
But after the game, Cook was more concerned about his one turnover rather than his notable number of assists.
“I don’t keep track of that stuff, I just try to keep track of my turnovers,” he said. “I’m just trying to find ways to get better everyday.”
After securing a solid lead after halftime, the team was able to make good use out of its reserves, all of whom went on to make use of the extra minutes available.
Both Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson capitalized off of their extended playing time, scoring seven and eight points, respectively. With help from two steals by Tyler Thornton, Murphy scored back-to-back field goals in just a matter of 20 seconds, bringing the Blue Devils’ lead to 48—the highest of the night—with just over eight minutes left to play.
Senior walk-on Todd Zafirovski, who scored his first two career points against Delaware Dec. 1, went on to add three points and another rebound to his career total.
As the squad continues to grow, Krzyzewski noted that rebounding remains a problem for the team, which had been been outrebounded on average by 1.0 boards per game entering Wednesday. Dominating Duke on the offensive boards, the Big Red outrebounded Duke 35-30.
Players seemed confident that weariness would not be an issue as the team takes on the Elon Phoenix (6-4) Thursday night at home. In fact, Wednesday’s game against Cornell proved that back-to-back games may be more preferable than having long breaks between matchups.
“Back-to-back is not strange for us because we did that in, like, the Bahamas, but it is strange not playing for 12 days,” Mason Plumlee said. “So this we’re used to now.”