As close as it got at the end, Thursday’s 98-85 win against N.C. State sure felt like a statement, and it was Duke’s second in a row.
After the Blue Devils lost their first two road games, they grinded out a close win against Wake Forest on the road before blowing out Florida State in the first few minutes of the game. And facing the team that handed it the team’s first loss of the season, Duke (20-2, 7-2) did the same thing to the Wolfpack: Shot out to a commanding lead in the game’s first few minutes and never looked back.
When asked if revenge was on Duke’s mind Thursday, Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski said no. But there’s no doubting this game and the way Duke did it had some extra meaning.
“If you are always playing revenge, that means you’ve lost,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t want to play revenge games. You’ve got to learn to play like we want to win.”
Whether or not they came out Thursday for revenge, Duke was a team on a mission from the opening tip.
With a swagger in their step, the Blue Devils came out confidently and on fire in the first half, looking like they wanted to seal the deal early. Duke shot 10-for-17 from 3-point range in the first half and went into the break with a 58-37 lead.
“We shot it pretty well tonight,” Blue Devil senior Seth Curry said. “We got a lot of good looks, and we had a lot of energy defensively, and that translated to the offensive end. We came out really motivated and with a lot of energy, and that showed.”
Seth Curry, who has been battling a leg injury and has seen limited practice time the entire season, came out and dropped 26 points on the night in 35 minutes on the floor. Curry’s classmate and National Player of the Year candidate Mason Plumlee was even better, 30 points on 9-for-11 shooting from the floor.
“Mason is playing as well as anybody in the country,” Krzyzewski said. “His moves inside are really beautiful. He’s playing through contact and instead of just taking a hook, he is feeling the defense and working in when he passes the ball out.”
Mason looked determined all game long, repeatedly flexing his muscles and clenching his jaw as he made his way down the floor. He sat just a few seconds out of the entire 40 minutes.
“We tried not to make more of [this game] just because we lost to them before,” Plumlee said. “We just looked at it as our next ACC game…we have a good thing going right now and we want to keep that momentum going.”
But Curry and Plumlee weren’t the only Blue Devils to put up big numbers. Sophomore floor general Quinn Cook contributed 21 points for Duke in his 35 minutes on the floor. Standout freshman Rasheed Sulaimon added 11 points for the Blue Devils, but set the game’s tone with six quick points.
Redshirt freshman Alex Murphy along with freshman Amile Jefferson also played some big minutes for Duke and provided the Blue Devils with new blood and a spark on both ends of the floor. Murphy ended with just four points, but two of them were on an electric two-handed slam.
“Quinn [Cook] had a great game… Everyone on our team contributed. Amile [Jefferson] and Murph [Alex Murphy] gave us some great minutes at the four,” Krzyzewski said.
Duke will look to keep up the momentum created by its last two significant victories against ACC opponents when they travel to Boston College.
The Blue Devils hope to start the rest of its games this season as well as they have the past two games. But they need maintain the same focus in the second half as they have demonstrated early in games—Duke shot 0-for-7 from 3-point range in the final 20 minutes, allowing the Wolfpack to claw back in the game. The inconsistency may be exacerbated by the absence of senior forward Ryan Kelly, who is out indefinitely with an injury, were in the lineup.
“We can’t start any better than we have in the past two games,” Krzyzewski said. “We would love to have Ryan [Kelly] back, but we have learned to play with this group. I am not saying we are a great team, but we are a good team now with this group. Again, we got off to an unbelievable start.”
Despite the Wolfpack climbing their way back into the game in the second half, Duke was able to hold them off even as N.C. State (16-7, 5-5) got within eight points. But Duke was not going to let the Wolfpack celebrate momentous victory over them for a second time this season.
As tense as the final moments seemed, the Blue Devils never trailed during the entire game.
“That was ACC basketball tonight,” Krzyzewski said. “I thought both teams played their hearts out. I don’t know if we can play any harder or better in the first half… It would be nice if both of us were healthy in March, because we both have really good basketball teams.”