Seniors Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee have been through almost everything together—from the high of winning a National Championship in 2010 to the low of being upset in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64 last season against 15th-seeded Lehigh.
Tuesday night the trio of veterans played its last game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, leading Duke past Virginia Tech 85-57 with a collective output of 52 points.
“I’m so proud of my seniors,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They’ve been absolutely amazing. Their four years and being a part of 120 wins and championships and how they’ve gone through this whole year. One has played hurt the entire year. One was out for 13 games, and he’s coming back. They’ve been great. I’m glad they were recognized so well and had a chance to thank the fans.”
Plumlee, Curry and Kelly lead the team in scoring at 17.1, 16.9 and 14.8 points, respectively. That production and the team’s success during the entire four years—a record of 120-21—stems from the continuity, character and talent of this core group. Having three seniors—each being all-conference caliber players—has had an astounding impact on the program.
Each has risen to the occasion to help Duke pull out big-time wins. Some of the three’s most memorable moments: Curry’s 22-point performance to help the Blue Devils overcome a 14-point halftime deficit to defeat North Carolina in 2011, Kelly’s triumphant and career-high 36-point outburst Saturday in a win against Miami in his first game back from a foot injury, and Plumlee’s 21-point and 17- rebound performance to help secure a win against Ohio State in November.
The achievement is especially impressive in the context of a college basketball landscape of high-roster turnover and short-lived collegiate careers.
“We were talking about it with Coach yesterday,” said Curry, who transferred after his freshman year at Liberty to join Kelly’s and Plumlee’s class in Durham. “This is something rare where you have three really good seniors who really control a team. That’s rare. That might be the last time you see that at Duke, or for a while in the country. It’s really special and something were really proud of.”
But the triumvirate was nearly broken apart. At the end of last season, the Duke fan base was in a frenzy as the 6-foot-10 Plumlee mulled giving up his last year in Durham in order to enter the NBA Draft.
His return saved what would have been an otherwise undersized and inexperienced Blue Devil frontcourt this season. And Tuesday night, the National Player of the Year hopeful got to say goodbye to Cameron Indoor Stadium—where the group was undefeated for three of its four seasons—in proper fashion.
“It is sad,” Plumlee said. “That’s the last time we’re going to play in Cameron. We won’t have that feeling as a player again.”
The stars may be aligning for the team at just the right time as the group’s collegiate careers draw to a close. Arguably the team’s most important player, Kelly, is back, and his reinsertion to the lineup has allowed the squad to instantly rekindle some of the spark and confidence it had in November at full strength when it beat four ranked foes in impressive fashion. Kelly was also injured at the end of last season, when the Blue Devils were bounced by Lehigh. The last time Duke has lost a game without Kelly was last February.
Battling through a lower leg injury this entire year, Curry appears to be healthier than he has been all season. The experience of a veteran team that is undefeated with Kelly healthy should be an invaluable asset in the postseason.
“It gives us a huge edge when you have three seniors, especially in tournament play when you don’t want it to be your last game,” Curry said. “You have that extra motivation and extra edge. We’ve been through a lot of experiences.”
As remarkable as the trio’s journey has been, the shared mindset is that the final lap is the most paramount. Fairly or unfairly, their legacy will likely be judged and remembered largely by how they perform in March and early April.
“There’s a ton of season left, so we’re going to do something special,” Kelly said as he addressed the crowd following Tuesday night’s game.