TALLAHASSEE, Fla.— Sometimes there is nothing a team can do to make the shots go in. Sometimes everything falls. The most a team can do is put itself in a position to shoot a high percentage.
On Wednesday, Wake Forest’s hot shooting put the Demon Deacons in a position to upset the Blue Devils even though their effort ultimately fell short. Saturday, No. 5 Duke (19-2, 6-2 in the ACC) brought its hottest hand but it was more than random fluctuation. The Blue Devils shared the shots and moved the ball to put themselves in the best position to put points on the board, and fortunately, the shots were falling.
Duke ran its offense exceptionally, and reaped the benefits to shoot 60.8 percent from the field, the highest rate for the team in ACC play since Jan. 14, 2007 against Miami.
“Every once in a while you run into a team that’s exceptionally focused and knocking down shots,” Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said. “To the point that every time they had open looks and we faltered defensively they made us pay.”
First and foremost, the Blue Devils unselfish play penalized the Seminoles.
Duke had a total of 20 assists on its 31 field goals while committing only 10 turnovers. The guards in particular looked for the open man. Quinn Cook, who Krzyzewski singled out for running the offense exceptionally, recorded six assists with only one turnover.
Duke’s backcourt of Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Seth Curry combined for 12 assists, with seven of those to one another. That led to a combined 53 points for the trio, with each player scoring in double figures. Cook shot 7-for-12, Sulaimon 6-for-11 and Curry 7-for-11, showing that shots were equally shared between the three guards. The guards keyed Duke’s hot shooting from deep, where the team finished 11-for-18.
“We were sharing the ball. We took the best shot possible,” Curry said. “Guys weren’t just taking shots just because. We were sharing the ball, setting good screens, moving without the ball, getting open, and we were getting stops and easy buckets.”
With Amile Jefferson as the fourth player in double figures, there were glimpses of the balanced offense Duke had before the injury to Ryan Kelly. Jefferson, who has assumed Kelly’s starting role, finished the game with 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting and four rebounds.
“Up until Ryan’s injury we were this incredibly balanced team,” Krzyzewski said. “Since his injury we haven’t had that balance, that load has been put on Mason and Seth. Today everybody responded.”
With so many players contributing for Duke, Florida State had no answer to a Blue Devil squad that Hamilton said was on a “magic level.” Hamilton said his team could have played better defense, but acknowledged that the Blue Devils executed fluidly throughout the contest. Even Mason Plumlee, who only had eight points, was pivotal in the Blue Devils’ offense.
“When [Mason] passes the ball to you, you feel compelled to hit the shot,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s kind of like with a great quarterback, when he throws the ball you say, ‘I better catch it.’”
Such a well-run offense has the ability to intimidate. Florida State freshman Aaron Thomas admitted that his team found it disheartening after the Blue Devils raced to an 18-2 lead.
“It’s hard to come back. When they went up 18-2, it’s just like we just shut down,” Thomas said. “Everybody just thought the game was over.”
Duke has had to adapt without a key cog in the offense and this is arguably its best display since Kelly got hurt. While it is unlikely that the Blue Devils will continue to shoot at this high percentage, it is a good sign that they have begun to regain their offensive balance.
“When we run our offense and we use each other to score, shots will be there,” Sulaimon said.