Rasheed Sulaimon had a rough start. He went to the bench after letting Maryland’s Dez Wells score Maryland’s first seven points and grab five rebounds in the first four minutes.
When he came back, he made sure that would not happen again.
Hitting his next six three-point attempts, Sulaimon went on to score a career-high 25 points as the Blue Devils rebounded from their Miami loss with a 84-64 trouncing of Maryland Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“Rasheed played a great game,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He did something that I think is so terrific…. He said, ‘I got you coach. I’ll do better.’ So he just embraced responsibility, and anybody who embraces responsibility has a chance to do better.”
Sulaimon re-entered the game at the 14:01 mark in the first half with the Blue Devils down 13-12, and the guard did not waste his second chance.
First, he knocked down a 3-pointer and drew a foul to complete a four-point play that put Duke up by five. Then, he hit two more 3-pointers on consecutive plays.
“Quinn [Cook] found me early, I got that and-one three, and after that everything just kept falling in, and they just kept finding me,” Sulaimon said.
The freshman stayed hot, hitting two more 3-pointers to finish the half making 5-of-5 from behind the arc. Duke shot 70% overall from 3-point range in the half, a marked improvement from the 17.4% performance against Miami.
“This was just a game that showed basically what our character was like,” Sulaimon said. “Are we going to fold after a big loss or are we going to step up and be men?”
In the 90-63 loss to Miami Thursday, Sulaimon had played with a greater sense of urgency in the closing minutes than his teammates, scoring 11 of his team-high 16 points in the final 10 minutes.
“When he came out in the first half like that [today], I thought this is a carryover,” senior Mason Plumlee said. “He was aggressive at the end of the Miami game. As a team, we weren’t all that aggressive at the end of that game, but he was, and I think it carried over.”
Sulaimon’s offensive performance carried over into the second half of the matchup with Maryland as well.
Duke entered the break with a 43-35 lead, but had given up 12 offensive rebounds and 12 second-chance points to the Terrapins. With the help of three more offensive rebounds in the first five minutes, Maryland was able to keep cutting into Duke’s lead.
After the 14-minute mark, Sulaimon twice extended the Blue Devil lead back to double-digits. After the second time—on the freshman’s sixth consecutive made 3-pointer—Duke’s lead never dropped back to single digits.
The wingman’s hot hand also opened the court for Plumlee, who scored just four points in the first half and has struggled without injured forward Ryan Kelly in to spread the floor.
“I know a lot of the attention is going to be on Seth and Mason, especially with Ryan being out. The attention is more on those two,” Sulaimon said. “Just doing my job as a teammate, I know that I’m going to have a lot of open shots and that I have to be ready to take them and make them…. If I’m making shots, the defense, the pressure is less on them, and they can take over the game.”
In the second half, Plumlee did just that. The senior put up a 16-point second-half performance, highlighted by a two-handed, reverse putback jam midway through the half.
“I thought his second half was as good as he played this year,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s playing against a pretty good player, a really good player, and that offensive rebound, that got me excited.”
While Plumlee picked up his scoring performance, it was freshman Amile Jefferson who helped Duke compete on the boards.
Behind his team-leading nine rebounds, the Blue Devils were able to pull even on the second-half rebounding margin after Maryland won nine more first half boards.
That improvement on the glass helped fuel Duke’s transition game that produced eight fast-break points.
“We’ll run if we get the ball, and people are sending a lot of people to the ball because they’re bigger than we are,” Krzyzewski said. “If our perimeter gets the rebound, then we’re going to have a numerical advantage on the other end, and that’s what happened. To get the rebound is the thing.”
Overall, all five Blue Devil starters reached double-digit scoring, and the team finished with a 52.4% field–goal percentage against the third-best field goal percentage defense in the nation.
“We weren’t just playing for ourselves,” Sulaimon said. “We weren’t just playing for this team, but we were playing for this program—all the players that came before. To put on that Duke jersey is something special, and we let our program down on Wednesday and we just wanted to respond and just do everything we can to make this program proud.