CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Coming into Thursday night’s game, Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski was looking to begin 2013 the same way his team ended 2012—by winning every game they played.
Although the game was tied at the half, Blue Devils remained undefeated with a 67-50 victory against Davidson at the Time Warner Cable Arena. Ryan Kelly led the way with 18 points.
Similar to Santa Clara, Duke’s previous opponent, Davidson refused to hand over an easy victory. The Wildcats had already defeated major-conference schools Vanderbilt and West Virginia in the beginning of the season and were looking to end their 23-game losing streak against the Blue Devils.
“Davidson and us have played just a crazy schedule,” Krzyzewski said. “They’ve played a tough schedule and so have we. Hopefully it’ll benefit both of us going into conference play.”
The Wildcats (7-6) were fueled by forwards De’Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen, who scored eight and 17 points, respectively. Brooks also led all players in rebounds with 12, including four on the offensive boards.
Davidson finished with 12 offensive rebounds, compared to three for Duke.
“We’ve usually stopped the two or three best players from the other team from getting their average or having a great game,” Krzyzewski said. “With them, it’s two bigs. Their two best players are their two bigs, and [head coach Bob McKillop] uses them in a very unique way.”
The story of the first half could be told by two numbers—eight Davidson offensive rebounds and 14 second-chance points. The two teams went into the break tied at 29.
Davidson began the game playing aggressively on offense, attacking the basket and converting on several layups and short jump shots.
But both teams generally struggled from the field in the early going—Davidson made just 11-of-34 first-half field goals and 2-of-10 from deep. The Wildcats entered play hitting 39.4 percent of their 3-pointers.
Duke made just 2-of-6 first-half treys and began the night ranked fourth nationally in 3-point shooting percentage. The game’s first 3-pointer came by way of Chris Czerapowicz with 12:05 left in the half.
Duke stars Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry were held in check for the majority of the first half, only tallying two and six points, respectively. Curry was guarded tightly after his impressive 31-point performance against Santa Clara and did not score in the second half, finishing 3-of-7 from the field.
The undersized Brooks and Cohen guarded Plumlee for the majority of the game, with success thanks to help defense and regular double teams.
Plumlee finished with a season-low 10 points, adding seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals. He also turned it over six times. Curry made just 3-of-11 field goals
“Even if [Plumlee] isn’t getting as many shots or making as many shots he does so much for our offense,” Kelly said. “There’s so much focus on him that it opens things up for other people.”
Brooks started strongly for Davidson, using a wide array of post moves and his quickness to weave his way through the paint against the stronger Plumlee and Josh Hariston.
Brooks quickly produced six points and seven rebounds, though he ultimately finished the game just 4-of-13 from the field.
While the Davidson frontcourt focused on Plumlee, Kelly capitalized with 11 first-half points, including the team’s only shots from deep.
“Once we figured it out we found the holes in it,” Kelly said. “Anytime you double team someone, you’re giving something up.”
Freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon, who scored six of his eight points from the free throw line, provided assistance.
Duke’s defensive intensity picked up in the second half, with several players diving to the floor for loose balls. This intensity paid off, as the Blue Devils held the Wildcats scoreless for the first 6:07 of the half, going on a 12-0 run to put them up 41-29.
The Wildcats scored just 21 second-half points.
“Our defense was outstanding tonight,” Krzyzewski said. “In the first half we gave up offensive rebounds and in the second half we didn’t. To me that was the key to the ball game.”
Kelly continued to lead the Blue Devils, driving early and often in order to get to the free throw line, where he exceled for the entirety of the night. Kelly also continued to knock down his shots, going 2-of-3 in the second half, including another 3-pointer.
The Wildcats did not have a player in double digits until there was 8:15 left in the second half, when Jake Cohen knocked down a 3-pointer. He finished the action with a game-high 19 points.
Once Duke jumped out to its second half lead, there was no turning back for the Blue Devils. They held the Wildcats at bay, with a lead consistently around 10 points after their 12-0 run.
On a night where Plumlee and Curry struggled, the rest of the team was able to pick up the load. Quinn Cook put up 15 points for the third time this season, with 13 of them coming in the second half.
The Wildcats, who are known as a strong 3-point shooting team, finished the night making 4-of-19 from beyond the arc. They stayed close due to their offensive rebounding.
“They run around for 35 seconds and they put up a shot and you kind of relax,” Curry said. “You got to stay attached to a man and try to find the rebound. And we did that in the second half.”
The Blue Devils return to action and open ACC play on Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Wake Forest at 12 p.m.