As expected, VCU didn't let Duke have an easy time trying to get to the finals for the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Blue Devils needed a big shot from Quinn Cook to put them ahead at halftime before giving themselves a little bit of breathing room in the second half. VCU kept the game close the entire way, but Duke didn't let down and hung on to win 67-58.
Here's your postgame recap:
Revisiting the three keys to the game:
- Does Duke have a bench? Nope. The Blue Devils actually tightened their rotation to seven players, as only Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston made it off the bench. The lack of foul trouble may have attributed to the high minute totals for the starters. One has to wonder whether Duke will need to dig a little deeper tomorrow night when it plays for the third time in three nights.
- Can Curry keep it consistent? Curry played well, but didn't shoot the ball the way he did against Kentucky and Minnesota. Curry shot just 3-for-9 from the field and 0-for-4 from beyond the arc, scoring for 15 points. Curry made up for his slow offensive night by grabbing seven rebounds and got to the line for 10 free throws, of which he made nine.
- Will Mason’s fantastic foul shooting continue? A resounding yes. Plumlee made 7-of-8 free throws and has now missed just four free throws in his last four games.
Three key plays of the game:
- 0:06.0, first half. After Darius Theus connected on a three-pointer to give VCU a 28-27 lead late in the first half, Quinn Cook answered right back. Cook took Theus off the dribble, got into the lane, and kissed a floater off the backboard for two points, putting the Blue Devils back on top 29-28 heading into the intermission.
- 17:31, second half. The Blue Devils took over for more than two minutes, going on a 9-0 run. Rasheed Sulaimon got the scoring started with a three-pointer. Ryan Kelly followed up by connecting from inside while drawing the foul and hit the free throw to convert the three-point play. Seth Curry then hit three of four free throws giving Duke a 44-32 before Treveon Graham ended the run with a layup.
- 0:34.5, second half. Leading 62-56, Plumlee continued his brilliant free throw shooting by draining a pair to put the game to bed for the Blue Devils. Much of the second half VCU hung around every time Duke made a run, but Plumlee's free throws finally ensured Duke's victory, setting up a showdown in Atlantis against the winner of Louisville/Missouri for the tournament title.
Three key stats:
- Held VCU to 32.8 percent shooting. The Blue Devil defense was stifling all night, lead by forward Ryan Kelly. On a night when Duke struggled from beyond the arc -- shooting just 3-of-16 -- the Blue Devils needed that defensive intensity against an energized Rams team. VCU shot 48.1 percent from the floor the night before against Memphis.
- 17 rebounds for the Duke starting guards: Plumlee had a slow start in the rebounding department, but the Duke guards picked up the slack. Curry's seven rebounds was two more than he had recorded all season. Sulaimon's seven was a career high, and Cook added three more. The guard rebounding helped offset the fact that Kelly pulled down just four for the night.
- Five blocks for Ryan Kelly: Ryan Kelly isn't known for his defense but has made his presence felt on the defensive end thus far this tournament. After rejecting three shots against Minnesota yesterday, Kelly swatted another five tonight. Kelly's emergence next to Plumlee as an intimidating defensive big man will make things think twice about venturing into the paint.
And the Duke game ball goes to ... Quinn Cook. After another impressive game it's time to declare Quinn-sanity in the Bahamas. Cook doesn't have the scoring numbers that Plumlee and Curry have, but turns this Duke offense into a well-oiled machine whenever he's on the floor. For the second time in the last three games Cook recorded nine assists and would have had more if not for the Blue Devils' struggles from beyond the arc.
And the VCU game ball goes to ... Juvonte Reddic. The North Carolina native was tasked with the near impossible job of covering Mason Plumlee, and despite giving up some size to Plumlee, out-rebounded the Duke forward 12 to 10. Reddic also shot 8-for-15 from the field for 16 points. Perhaps most impressively, Reddic only committed one foul against the Blue Devil big man.