When Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski went home for his team’s nine-day holiday break between games, he already had the No. 1 spot in the rankings and arguably the nation’s top recruit in Jabari Parker. One could say that Christmas came early for Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils.
But the presents did not come easily for Duke during Saturday’s 90-77 victory against Santa Clara at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Seth Curry played the role of Santa Claus, gifting Duke a career-high 31-points, leading the Blue Devils past the Broncos with an outstanding 18-point second half.
“We all know he’s capable of going for 30, it’s just nice to see him do that,” senior center Mason Plumlee said.
Duke (12-0) began the game with what seemed like a holiday-layover slump, as they allowed Santa Clara (11-3) to lead for much of the first half and come back even after the Blue Devils built an 11-point advantage. A large part of this came on the Blue Devils’ own accord, as they struggled from the free-throw line, hitting just 7-of-14 attempts in the first period.
Mason Plumlee hit 2-of-6 free throws in the first 20 minutes, but finished the game 10-of-15.
“You miss a few and you just have to flush them out [of your mind],” Plumlee said. “You can’t hang on to every free throw.”
Robert Garrett, a 7-foot and 270-pound sophomore, was charged with the with the daunting task of finding some way to slow down Plumlee, who leads the ACC in rebounding and double-doubles. Plumlee recorded just eight of his 23 points in the first half, also ending the afternoon with 13 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season.
“We made him earn it,” Santa Clara head coach Kerry Keating said. “I would venture to guess that in all the games that they have played that Rob is the biggest guy he has played against.”
Senior Kevin Foster, Santa Clara’s all-time leading scorer, who entered the contest averaging 18.2 points and 4.6 assists per game, seemingly single-handedly kept the Broncos in the game. Foster was the team’s only source of constant production in the first half, going 8-for-13 from the field, including a pair of three-pointers, leading all first-half scorers with 18 points.
“Foster was just hitting everything,” Plumlee said. “They were impressive.”
Fellow Santa Clara senior Marc Trasolini had been putting up decent numbers so far this season, with 16.3 points and 7.8 rebounds. But his success was put on hold, as Ryan Kelly held him to four points and three rebounds in the first half. Kelly also finished with a double-double, recording 10 points and a season-high 11 rebounds.
Going into halftime, Duke was only up by two points, 38-36.
“That was like a February ACC game. That was a heck of a game,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re really good. I mean we knew, it’s not like we didn’t expect it, but they were better.”
The second half opened with both teams looking to feed their star players the ball and widen the gap. Curry found success through both driving and shooting, while Foster was regularly double-teamed when he went to the hole.
In a matter of three minutes in the second half, the Blue Devils extended their lead from six to 17, thanks to the play of Curry and Plumlee. Curry and Plumlee led a on an 8-0 run, including back-to-back layups from Curry and a dunk from Plumlee.
“They aren’t going to stop playing,” Keating said. “I think maybe we got their attention a little before halftime.”
With Plumlee garnering the majority of the Broncos help defense, Curry was left wide open throughout the game, knocking down four 3-pointers and converting on several weaving drives to the basket.
Foster was held in check in the second half, going 0-for-2 and scoreless during a nine minute-long drought in the second half. He finally picked up his game with seven minutes going, knocking down three 3-pointers, but by that time Duke had swung the momentum in their favor, along with the lead.
“I hit a couple threes so of course they are going to start denying me and stuff,” Foster said. “They made it hard for me to get catches and stuff.”
Foster finished the game with 29 points.
Foul trouble was a big issue for Santa Clara in the second half, as they racked up eight fouls in less than seven minutes of play, forcing the Broncos to lose the aggressiveness they had used to keep the score close in the first half.
With this foul trouble came free throw opportunities for the Blue Devils, and led by Plumlee’s improved free throw shooting, Duke took advantage.
“We just said, ‘We’re going to hit them. Don’t worry about it.’”, Plumlee said. “And that’s what we did in the second half.”
Krzyzewski used a short rotation for much of the game, largely only playing starters Curry, Kelly, Mason Plumlee, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon with Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton off the bench. Redshirt freshmen Marshall Plumlee—in just his second game—and Alex Murphy also played brief stints.
After redshirting last season, Marshall had missed the beginning of this season with a stress fracture in his left foot. A fan favorite, the Cameron Crazies chanted “We are Marshall” for the 7-foot center.