Two minutes and one second into last night’s game, freshman point guard Kyrie Irving was whistled for his second foul, having harassed a RedHawk player a little too closely near the sideline. Irving later admitted it was a foul he shouldn’t have committed.
The foul really didn’t matter. Duke simply substituted in sophomore Andre Dawkins, shifting Nolan Smith over to run the point. The sequence showcased the depth and versatility of the Blue Devils, as well as their willingness to put different combinations on the court together. That willingness extended to the starting lineup, with head coach Mike Krzyzewski starting forward Ryan Kelly over Miles Plumlee against Miami (Ohio).
“We’ll try some different things to see where our chemistry might be with different units,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s not like a demotion or a promotion. We look at how Ryan and Mason [Plumlee] play together, bring Miles in.”
Duke has the luxury of experimentation because of the team’s versatility, which was on display from the get-go—in fact, Krzyzewski had already played nine different Blue Devils only eight minutes into the game. In one instance, during a 15-2 Duke run, Dawkins hit a 3-pointer at the top of the key, Mason Plumlee converted a lob from Seth Curry and Smith flipped the ball to Kyle Singler for a bucket in the paint. Everyone got involved.
Those kinds of chemistry experiments will be ongoing. At times, the Blue Devils placed Singler, one of the Plumlees and Kelly together on the court. The trio towered over the RedHawks, whose tallest starter, Julian Mavunga, measures only 6-foot-8. And at other times, Duke put together smaller, quicker lineups which boasted the lightning-fast Irving, Smith, Dawkins or Curry, and Singler.
“It’s the second game of the season. Obviously, we’re trying different things out,” Mason Plumlee said. “I mean, if you remember last year, it wasn’t until a little ways into the ACC where we had a set lineup. So this early, we’re experimenting and just going from there.”
Plumlee certainly reaped the benefits against Miami. He left Cameron Indoor Stadium with his first career double-double, having contributed 10 points and 14 rebounds in 24 minutes. Despite a questionable start in which the forward turned the ball over on two straight possessions, the younger Plumlee got his feet under him as the game progressed. A stretch where Plumlee seemed to have his hand in every play culminated with 1:42 remaining in the opening period, when he went to the free throw line for two shots. Plumlee made the first but missed the second, dashed in to follow the miss, grabbed the tip from Singler and put it through the hoop for two more points.
While Plumlee did not grab that rebound, he did have more than enough in the contest.
“After our first game, we didn’t have anybody with more than four rebounds,” Krzyzewski said. “And with Mason getting 14, it’s a huge step forward. He’s capable of doing that. He’s got great hands. He’s a good athlete. He’s a smart player.”
Plumlee was one of four Blue Devils to reach double figures against the RedHawks. Seth Curry led the way with a game-high 17 points in 22 minutes, Smith chipped in with 10 points and Irving finished with 13 after his initial foul trouble.
The balanced scoring only serves to underscore the depth on the squad. Smith went as far as calling that depth “scary.”
“We have so many guys who can come in and help us,” Smith said. “Obviously tonight, Seth came in and had a very good game. Andre, Josh Hairston, Ryan, Miles, whoever it is coming off the bench—and obviously guys who are starting, we already know what we can do. We have so many guys that can produce.”
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