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Duke 92 State 78 : Turning a (Big) Corner ?

It has often been observed on this site ( and by plenty of other folks as well) that Duke’s ultimate degree of success this year will be contingent on the development of their bigs as consistently productive players. Wednesday night showed us what happens when they get the productive part right. The consistency element, of course, remains to be seen.

After 3 straight games of miserable first half performances, Duke finally got out of the gate quickly against the Pack, getting 3 early buckets from Andre Dawkins to take and 11-3 lead. The Devils hit 5 of their first 6 shots from the floor, but the Wolfpack were able to even things up largely as the result of 6 Duke turnovers in the first 7 minutes. After the second TV timeout, Duke finally stopped handing State the ball and went on a 19-4 run (during which) they scored on eight of nine posessions) to take a 32 - 18 advantage. Five different players scored during this run, including little used Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton, who drilled his first 3 of the year. Meanwhile, on the defensive end, the Devils got outstanding play on the interior, as the bigs continually frustrated State’s attempts in the paint and at the rim ( Mason finished the half with 6 blocks). Duke’s intensity and State’s persistent inability to finish combined to cause the Wolfpack to shoot a horrific 21% from the floor. Duke did a great job on the boards as well, pulling down 23 rebounds ( 6 from Ryan Kelly). The Duke post rotation of Kelly, Plumlee, Plumlee, and Hairston ( attorneys at law) finished the half with 12 points, 16 boards and 10 blocks ( none too shabby) ,helping to propel Duke to a 42-28 halftime lead.

Duke continued its disturbing trend of poor second half starts ( see the UVA game review) by allowing N.C. State to go on a 9-2 run in the first 2 minutes. Andre committed the cardinal sin of fouling a 3 point shooter ( the third time Duke has done this in the last 4 halves of basketball, by the way). This was followed by a reckless Ryan Kelly pass leading to an easy fast break bucket, a too-quick and well guarded 3 from Kyle that led to another easy hoop, and culminated with a bad open court turnover from Kyle leading to yet another lay-up. It was a miserable and uncharacteristic sequence of poor mental play from Duke and it let State and the RBC Center crowd right back into the game. Then from the 17:44 mark to the 13:23 mark, the Devils held the Pack at bay, maintaining a 6-8 point lead largely because of the inspired play of Miles Plumlee who scored 6 straight points during one stretch. Scott Wood drilled a 3 pointer to pull State within 5, but the Devils answered with 3 quick baskets and some strong defensive play to go on a 9-2 run of their own. At the 11 minute mark, the lead stood at what would prove for State to be an insurmountable 13 points. They never got closer than 9 for the rest of the contest.

It was evident from the outset that Duke’s style of play was considerably more up-tempo than it had been since Kyrie’s injury. Coach K said in his post-game presser that he felt as though our movement on offense had become stagnant and sought to correct it by pushing tempo. Strategically, this makes a lot of sense. What it essentially accomplishes is that allows Duke to  take better advantage of the Plumlees skill set, (their athleticism and ability to run the floor) instead of forcing them to be back-to-the basket post scorers which, at they moment, they just aren’t. By attacking the basket before the opposing defense is set, you are also providing more opportunites for our bigs to get offensive put backs.

Now, N.C. State is one of the worst defensive teams in the ACC ( as evidenced by getting 84 points hung on them by offensively challenged FSU), so we’ll have to wait and see how much our ability to get out and run was an artifact of State’s play. The same line of thought goes for our bigs as well. NC State is relatively undersized and our post guys have a history of disappearing, so it’s probably best to take a cautiously optimistic approach. Unfortunately, our next game against an historically bad Wake squad will not be much of a barometer.

Game Notes

- Kyle was 6-18 from the floor and 2-8 from 3. He has become too much of a long range jump-shooter for my taste and needs to recover more of his pull-up game and attack the rim.

- Our 3-point shooting in ACC play has been woeful : Nolan 31% ( 9-29), Kyle 34% (13-38), and (shockingly) Andre 27% ( 8-29). The team overall is only shooting 31%. Against State they were 7-23.

- Mason is averaging 11.2 rebounds in ACC play and has 40 in his last 3 games.

- Big ups to Miles, who had his best game in memory with 11 points and 8 boards in only 21 minutes. The Duke bigs shot a combined 12-17 from the floor.