CHESTNUT HILL, Mass.—Sandwiched between a pivotal win over N.C. State last Thursday and an upcoming showdown with rival North Carolina on Wednesday, the Blue Devils’ road tilt Sunday night with Boston College had “trap game” written all over it.
No. 4 Duke (21-2, 8-2 in the ACC) needed every second of the game Sunday night to win 62-61 and overcome a sluggish start, narrowly avoiding the Eagles’ upset bid.
Down by one point with the ball, Boston College (10-13, 2-8) had a chance to win the game in the closing seconds. To force the Eagles into a more difficult final shot, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski made a crucial defensive adjustment by putting a quicker Rasheed Sulaimon on Boston College’s hot shooting forward Ryan Anderson on the Eagles’ final possession.
The switch forced Boston College into a tough jump shot that was well off the mark. Duke seized the rebound, as well as its fifth-straight conference win.
“The last exchange we just felt, ‘don’t foul them and don’t let them get a rebound,’” Krzyzewski said. “We made one defensive adjustment on the high ball screen to put a guard on Anderson and put Mason [Plumlee] on [Eddie] Odio. That helped because then you could switch, and I think it stood them up just a little bit.”
Looking as if it were about to put the game away, Duke led by six with 8:56 remaining, but that advantage quickly disappeared. The Blue Devils saw themselves on the verge of being knocked off by the worst team in the league with two minutes left, trailing 61-56. Registering one of its most resilient performances of the year, Duke held the Eagles scoreless the rest of the way.
“[It was] a new game situation for us,” senior forward Mason Plumlee said. “I thought we handled it great. Those last two minutes we were so good. We weren’t [good] to start the game. We played in spurts today, but for those last two minutes, I thought we were great.”
Going scoreless in the first half, Blue Devil guard Quinn Cook’s timely 3-pointer from the corner cut the deficit to two points with 1:58 to play. The sophomore scored all nine of his points in the second half.
On Duke’s final possessions, Plumlee stepped to line with confidence and went 3-for-4 from the charity stripe to give the Blue Devils the advantage and the victory.
“I just knew they were in,” said Plumlee, who battled through a physical Eagles’ defense to record a team-high 19 points and 10 rebounds. “They weren’t all in, but I just had that feeling that I knew they were going in so I just got up there and knocked them down.”
Forced to delay its departure to Boston due to a blizzard Saturday, Duke arrived just a few hours before tipoff, and the change in routine appeared to negatively impact the squad, especially given the short rest. The Blue Devils came up empty on their first four possessions and committed nine of its 13 turnovers in the first half. Luckily for the Blue Devils, they went into the locker room with the game tied at 27.
Duke’s lack of intensity and inconsistent execution fueled Boston College’s confidence. The Eagles were patient and methodical throughout the night. As the game wore on, the crowd’s energy increased and Boston College made plays that nearly won them the game.
Giving the Eagles hope to hang their season on a signature upset-win, Anderson—a 6-foot-8 forward with perimeter skills—scored in a variety of ways, and freshman guard Olivier Hanlan hit timely shots that allowed them to control the game for a large portion of the night. The two underclassmen combined to finish with 37 points on the night and were the only two Eagles in double figures.
“We couldn’t make shots, and we were giving them easy buckets,” said Duke senior shooting guard Seth Curry, who finished with 18 points and became half of the highest-scoring brother duo in NCAA Division I history passing the Hansbrough brothers. “They just got more confidence from that. They kept playing well and we never really played as good as we needed to play the whole game, but we found a way to win.”
In the second half, there were several occasions in which Duke—which trails ACC-leading Miami by two games heading down the stretch—looked poised to put the game away. Notably, Plumlee stole the ball near midcourt and finished it with a breakaway slam dunk at 12:30 to give Duke a five-point advantage. But, the Eagles stormed back each time with momentum-changing plays of their own.
Hanlan’s two made free throws to put Boston College up five at 2:15 would have likely been enough to beat most of the conference’s inconsistent squads. On this night, however, Duke’s togetherness, experience and ability to persevere through adversity prevailed even when it never was able to get into a consistent groove.
“I like that my team won and the way we had to win because nothing about tonight was easy,” Krzyzewski said. “These are games that anybody can lose. And throughout the country, everybody is losing them. Our guys found a way to win against a team that was also deserving to win.”