“Numbers don’t tell the whole story” is a phrase that has been deservedly enshrined in the sports cliche hall of fame for some time now, but this old saw is unlikely to prove more apropos than when used to desribe Tyler Thornton’s performance on Sunday night. Thorton came off the bench early in the second half and gave a listless and reeling Duke team a HUGE energy boost on the defensive end, providing the lift the Blue Devils needed to overcome a tough Maryland squad.
The first half for the Devils was hardly a thing of beauty, as they were plagued by turnovers, missed shots, and overall flat play.Duke hit only one of 10 three point attempts in the half and turned the ball over 10 times ( after committing only 6 in the entire UAB game). Maryland’s defense, which was really solid throughout the game, certainly deserves a lot of credit for this, but Duke seemed generally out of sync and a step slow. Kyle’s play in the first half was stellar. He scored 14 points in a variety of ways, pulled down 5 boards ( 3 offensive) and basically kept the Blue Devils afloat. Nolan was finally cooled off by some in-your-jersey defense by Sean Mosely, and finished the half with only 7 points on 3-7 shooting and 4 turnovers. The Terrapins rode the back of Jordan Williams on the offensive end, who, were it not for two early fouls, would have been even more troublesome for Duke. A last second tip-in by Kyle gave Duke a 32-31 lead at the half.
Atypically, Duke came out of the locker room looking tentative, and for the first minute played even more listlessly than they had at any point in the first half. Maryland went on a 7-0 run out of the gate to take a 38-32 lead and forced Coach K to call a TO. Duke missed all six of its shots and turned the ball over 3 times in the first 3 minutes. Looking for some kind of spark, Coach K, in a moment of brilliant coaching intuition, brought Tyler Thornton and Seth Curry off of the bench, and the results were immediate. Tyler played energetic and aggresive defense, picking up four steals and drawing a charge in just 12 minutes of play. Both the team and the Cameron crowd responded with big upswing in both focus and intensity. Not to be outdone, Seth Curry dropped in nine points in a 14-2 Duke run, which gave Duke a 46-40 lead at the 12:40 mark. Maryland clawed back and refused to go away, using several momentum killing threes by Cliff Tucker and continued strong play from Williams to take a 56-55 lead with 6 minutes to play. Duke responded with consecutive clutch 3’s from Kyle and Andre and then closed the game out with some lock-down defense, holding Maryland to 4 points over the next 4 minutes.
Coach K is often criticized ( and not always undeservedly so, in my opinion) for being overly conservative with his bench and/or overplaying his starters ( Kyle and Nolan have played 40 minutes in each of the first 2 ACC contests this year). He has won 883 games with this approach, so I imagine he deserves the benefit of the doubt, but tonight’s game showed that he is not as inflexible as we might suppose in this regard. When Duke was on the ropes and desperately needed something to galvanize and invigorate their effort, Coach K found it sitting several seats to his left.
- Ryan Kelly has, for the most part, been really productive with his minutes this year. Lately, however, he has struggled mightily from beyond the arc, going 1-13 over his last 4 games and 0-4 last night. In his first 9 games he was a fantastic 7-12, but was getting less playing time and was being more selective with his shots. Last night, his largely ineffective play landed him on the bench for virtually the entire second half.
- The Plumlees continue to be massively inconsistent , both intra- and inter-game. After having a great game against UAB, Mason vanished, picking up 5 fouls and committing 5 turnovers in 18 minutes. Miles was decent, finishing with 4 points and 8 boards, but was 2-7 from the floor and is now 6 -18 over his last three games ( which, for those of you that don’t know, is AWFUL for a center. On the year, his FG% is worse than Nolan’s and Andre’s, with considerably fewer attempts to boot.) I’ve said it afore and I’ll say it again ( and it’s especially true without Kyrie ) that the ceiling for this team has the word Plumlees scrawled across it. Without some significant improvement on their part, out chances at repeating get a lot slimmer.
- We need to get Andre more shots.Run some plays for this guy, please! He is averaging 12 ppg over his last five games while taking only 8 shots per game and is shooting 57% from the floor for the season ( which would put him first in the conference if he had enough attempts !!)