Duke basketball's bench shines in the 88-50 win vs. Delaware

With the Blue Devils holding a comfortable lead, Duke’s bench had its time to shine against Delaware.
With the Blue Devils holding a comfortable lead, Duke’s bench had its time to shine against Delaware.

When beating top-five opponents Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State, the Blue Devils were essentially deploying only seven men, including senior guard Seth Curry, who is still at well below 100 percent while dealing with a lower-leg injury throughout the preseason. With Curry unable to go Saturday against Delaware at Cameron Indoor Stadium due to a left ankle injury, the Duke bench received a little extra time and performed quite admirably.

“We already knew [the bench] could do it, but the fact that they are out there and got those minutes is great,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “You never know [if Seth] is going to be able to play.”

Duke cruised to an 88-50 victory agaisnt the Fightin’ Blue Hens, with everybody stepping up to fill the void left by Curry. Tyler Thornton drew the start and handed out 10 assists. Josh Hairston overcame foul trouble to grab six rebounds and block a shot. Even senior walk-on Todd Zafirovski joined the party with his first career points.

However, no two players stood out more than forwards Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson.

“That’s really y’alls first time seeing [Murphy and Jefferson], but we know from practice that those guys are good players,” senior forward Mason Plumlee said. “Once they get some game experience, coach can depend on them and we can depend on them, and that will make us a better team if we can go deeper.”

Murphy, a redshirt freshman, and Jefferson, a true freshman, had given the Blue Devil faithful a reason for optimism prior to the season. Murphy looked active and effective in the team’s Blue-White scrimmage and started each exhibition game. Jefferson too used the exhibitions to announce his arrival to Durham, averaging 13.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in the two contests. Once the season kicked off, however, both players were left with bit minutes off the bench, that is, if they received any at all.

Jefferson has found his way onto the floor in every game, but the same has not been the case for Murphy.

“It’s been frustrating personally, but the team comes first, and what we’ve done to this point is obviously great,” Murphy said.

The frustration subsided after both Murphy and Jefferson saw a career-high 21 minutes of action Saturday. Murphy tallied 10 points and Jefferson added another 12.

“Seeing some shots fall, it definitely helps your confidence a little bit and you loosen up a little bit. It feels good to be out there,” Murphy said.

Where the young forwards really made their presence felt was on the boards. Murphy ripped down seven rebounds, and Jefferson had six of his own, including three on the offensive glass.

“I feel like that’s just the type of player I am,” Jefferson said about his rebounding tenacity. “When I get a chance to showcase that I’m going to try my best to do it.”

For a team that has been consistently winning games despite losing the rebounding battle, the added effort has not gone unnoticed. Plumlee is having a superb rebounding season, averaging 11.0 per game, but senior forward Ryan Kelly is averaging just 4.6 rebounds per game, down from 5.4 last season, even though he is playing five more minutes each contest. Hairston, who has been the team’s first big man off the bench, is adding just 2.4 rebounds to the frontcourt’s total.

“It will help our team,” Plumlee said of the rebounding effort put forth by Murphy and Jefferson. “They have a chance to be our best rebounding perimeter guys. If those guys can rebound, that gives us a different element.”

Despite the senior captains, Plumlee and Kelly, heaping praise onto the neophyte forwards, Krzyzewski cautioned that change is not in the cards for the immediate future.

“Those guys are good guys, but you know what, for me the main guys to develop are Mason, Ryan and Seth. To see Alex and Amile play so well today, that is great, but it doesn’t mean that we are going to get this wave of substitutions and things like that.”

While a changing of the guard is unlikely for now, the fact remains that Murphy and Jefferson showed they can help this Duke team immediately and could be deployed once again down the road this season.

“When you get into February and March you can’t just go five or six, you need to have a bench and be able to give guys a rest,” Murphy said. “Obviously you’ve seen what the first five can do, but I think developing a bench is a big part of what we’re going to do if we want to make a run late in March.”


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