The Blue Devils knock the Seminoles to the mat early and, led by Quinn Cook and Seth Curry, coast to a surprisingly comfortable road victory in Tallahassee.
Well that was a breath of fresh air. After a harrowing experience in Winston-Salem earlier in the week, Duke fans had some cause to be wary heading into a second straight road game against the Florida St. Seminoles on Saturday. Florida St. had won three out of the last four against Duke, and Duke has yet to play a complete game on the road this year. The Blue Devils wasted no time easing their fans' angst by jumping out to an 18-2 lead in the first 5 and half minutes of the game.
But that wasn't the impressive part. After that initial burst, Aaron Thomas broke the Duke run with an end of shot clock three with a hand in his face, followed by two Duke turnovers and another bucket by the 'Noles. Going into the second TV time out, Duke still had an eleven point led, but Florida St. still seemed to have caught its breath, poised to prepare for one of those game long comebacks that we'd be sweating in the last few minutes of the game. The impressive part was that Duke wasn't having it. Led by Quinn Cook and Seth Curry, and with surprisingly little help from Mason Plumlee, who sat on the bench most of the last half of the first half with two fouls, Duke went on a 20-5 run to ice the game. Florida St. put up a bit of a fight heading into halftime, but Duke shut that down coming back out of the half with 2 straight threes from Rasheed Sulaimon and Seth Curry. It was cruise control from there, as the Seminoles simply couldn't get the stops on the offensive end to cut into the Duke lead.
While Seth Curry continued to show why he's one of the best shooters in the nation, this game was highlighted by the continuing evolution of Quinn Cook as the next great Duke point guard. He is not there yet, but Cook is as talented on the offensive end as any point guard in the ACC right now. Lorenzo Brown, when healthy, is the best point guard in the league , but Quinn is running a closer second than I think most people give him credit for. Consistency and defense have to improve, but it's nice to see Duke with a true point guard again who can not only distribute, but also get to the basket and finish, like Cook has been doing lately.
As for the other star of the game, Seth Curry, Florida St. basically dared him to shoot early, so he did. I was stunned how open Curry was several times early. Leonard Hamilton's teams are generally known for good perimeter defense, but it just wasn't there on Saturday. Curry is the type of player that you need to focus on early and force tough shots. If he makes, them, well, there's not much you can do. But if he misses those early shots, there's at least a chance he's in for a tough night.
Overall, almost everyone was impressive. Mason Plumlee had a quiet game offensively, but he wasn't needed. Frankly, I imagine the rest was welcome. Amile Jefferson continues to improve. He's going to have his rough patches as a freshmen, but as he gets better, K's gotta love have an additional body that can be effective on both ends of the floor. Josh Hairston continues to be a more than solid glue guy - and once again had a couple of plays on the offensive end where he ends up in the right place at the right time - the end of half basket being the most impressive bucket for Josh on the night. Duke continues to play tremendous perimeter defense, and even rebounded well considering FSU's size. Florida St. didn't have anyone that could really give the Blue Devils fits on dribble penetration, and that allowed Duke to be aggressive on the perimeter, allowing Duke to neutralized Michael Snaer, who never got on track,
Overall, it's hard to complain about anything when your team has 20 assists on 31 made baskets, shoots 60% and the other team only has THIRTEEN (!!) defensive rebounds. Still, Alex Murphy's play is still disconcerting, considering what K himself seemed to expect from the redshirt freshmen this season. In Alex's 13 minutes, he managed to amass 3 of Duke's 10 turnovers for the game, and otherwise play the invisible man on offense. I'll give Marshall Plumlee a pass since he only played 6 minutes. But Alex and Marshall are not going to have many more opportunities this year for this type of burn off the bench. They need to make the most of the minutes they get -- especially Mr. Murphy, who looks very much like a guy that may be buried on the depth chart next year.
But overall, Duke fans, a ~20 point win in Tallahassee should be huge for the team's confidence as the team heads into its rematch with the Wolfpack on Thursday. Duke still has 2 games to make up on the Hurricanes, but a win against North Carolina St. will at the very least further the distance between Duke and the only other ACC team that has beaten them thus far. Those first few road games were stomach turning. Hopefully this blowout win instills this team with the confidence and knowledge that it can play and win anywhere in the ACC this year. Thoughts?