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Beyond the arc: Duke basketball vs. Minnesota

Most visitors think of the Bahamas as a relaxing destination, but Duke's first contest at Atlantis Paradise Island was far from a laid-back affair. Especially in the first half, Duke met a physical and athletic Minnesota squad in a fast-paced, hectic first-round game at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Though the Golden Gophers registered a number of highlight-reel plays attacking the rim and the boards, the Blue Devils answered almost every momentum play with a key basket of its own en route to an 89-71 win.

Here's your postgame breakdown:

Revisiting the three keys to the game:

  • Can Duke keep the Golden Gophers off the boards? Not really. Mason Plumlee rebounded aggressively for the Blue Devils, registering 17 boards for Duke, but no other Blue Devil had more than six rebounds in the game. Though Plumlee's total was 10 more than any Minnesota player had, ten different Golden Gophers pulled down at least one board as Minnesota outrebounded Duke 35-32, including 16-10 on the offensive glass.

  • Will Plumlee continue to get his touches? Plumlee was very aggressive demanding the ball in the post during some stretches of the game, but deferred to Duke's hot shooting at other times, especially when he was being defended by physical 289-pound freshman Maurice Walker. Plumlee finished 6-for-11 from the floor and added 8-of-10 free throws for a 20-point effort in addition to his 17 boards.

  • Can Quinn continue to swish and dish? Cook was swishing more than dishing in a game filled with sloppy ballhandling. He had four turnovers to go with his four assists against an athletic Minnesota defense, but he made several crucial shots (see below) to finish with 17 points.

Three key plays of the game:

  • 12:57, first half. With Duke leading 13-8, Minnesota's Joe Coleman stole the ball from Tyler Thornton but proceeded to turn it over in transition five seconds later, losing a key chance to cut into the Duke lead. This sort of play was emblematic of the Golden Gophers' early play, where the quick pace favored their depth and athleticism but they failed to convert early opportunities.
  • 3:55, first half. Mason Plumlee dominated the paint early against Minnesota center Elliot Eliason and continued to have success against a more athletic Trevor Mbakwe. He allowed a strong defensive rebound and layup on the other end, though, to Maurice Walker when the 289-pound freshman entered the game. But Plumlee regained his composure and continued to contribute for the rest of the afternoon on both ends of the floor.

  • 0:01, first half. In the last minutes of the first half, the referees allowed the game to get extremely physical, especially on the glass. Duke gradually began to appear somewhat frustrated, capped off by a call on Rasheed Sulaimon that led to a Maverick Ahanmisi 3-point play with under a minute to go. The foul brought Minnesota back within five, but Cook drained a miracle 3-pointer at the buzzer to put the momentum back in Duke's corner. It was just one of several times on the night when Cook made a key play in a situation when the Golden Gophers appeared poised to make a run. After this basket, Duke was able to keep Minnesota at arm's length for the rest of the contest.
  • Three key stats:

    • Five starters in double figures, two bench points: This statistic cuts both ways for the Blue Devils. It was the first time since December of last season that all five starters reached double digits in scoring, and all except Quinn Cook shot better than 50 percent from the field as well. High usage and high efficiency is always a winning recipe, but the downside—especially in a three-games-in-three-days situation—is that the Blue Devils got just two points, two rebounds, one assist and three turnovers from its bench.

    • 8-for-11 shooting for Seth Curry: Curry continues to battle leg injuries and seems destined to see his shooting performance cool off, but he continues to defy the odds by making seemingly every shot he takes. He made off-balance jumpshots, beautiful reverse layups, all three of his 3-point attempts, and 6-of-7 shots from the free-throw line.
    • 8-for-10 from the free-throw line for Mason Plumlee: Plumlee's game looks more mature and more refined in all phases, but perhaps the most marked improvement is in his game has come at the line. After shooting 44.1 percent as a sophomore and 52.8 percent last year, Plumlee  was shooting 77.3 percent entering today's play. He can make himself even that much more difficult to defend if he can continue to shoot 70-80 percent from the charity stripe.

    And the Duke game ball goes to ... Seth Curry. As crucial as Plumlee's contributions were, both in scoring and on the glass, his points came in bunches inside against sometimes questionable defense. Curry's 25 points lent energy to a noisy Duke crowd and to his teammates, since they were frequently contested shots and came at several key junctures in the game.

    And the Minnesota game ball goes to ... Maverick Ahanmisi. There were a couple of junctures early in the game where it appeared as though the Blue Devils were prepared to completely run away from the Golden Gophers and never look back. But point guard Ahanmisi came off the bench with energy and a 10-point performance without missing either of his field goals or any of his six free throws. It was Ahanmisi who drew the foul on Sulaimon that might have been huge were it not for Cook's buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

     

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