Tonight Duke opened the regular season at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Georgia State. Mike Krzyzewski entered the night with 927 wins looking for number 928, while Duke was looking for it’s 95th straight non-conference victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Coach K chose to go with a starting lineup of Tyler Thornton, Seth Curry, Rasheed Sulaimon, Ryan Kelly, and Mason Plumlee as he believed those were the best choices to matchup with the opposing team’s starting five.
We didn’t see a very together Duke in the first half. There were several turnovers, plays that would normally be finished around the rim, and there wasn’t a lot of rhythm to the offense. Georgia State looked to take Duke out of their comfort zone by playing several changing zone defenses that had the Blue Devils looking lost at points in the first half. There was a definite bright spot in the first half, and that was the Blue Devils defense looked much improved from last season where it was a struggle.
Two seniors really showed their experience tonight, that was Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry. Mason finished with a double-double of 19 points and 14 rebounds while Seth finished with 15 points on the night. With Curry still battling a leg injury, Coach K said they were going to be limiting practice in order to keep Seth fresh for games, and he looked well in tonight’s contest.
Tyler Thornton also got it on the action by contributing 13 points, 3-6 from 3-point range. He also added in 3 assists and 2 steals as well, but it was his hustle and defense that also looked sharp tonight. Chipping in 8 points and 4 assists was that of senior Ryan Kelly. At times Kelly looked a bit lost in the game, but we should see him shake off the rust and get back to his normal self. Kelly also had 3 rebounds in the game, but that is a definite area that needs to be improved upon by Kelly this season. At 6’11, Duke needs him to become more active on the boards on both sides of the court.
Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon got his first start as a Blue Devil tonight knocking down two 3’s and also contributing 4 assists. Sulaimon really does appear to be one of, if not our best perimeter defenders. There are still areas of the game Rasheed must improve on, but the coaching staff will be sure to have him watching game tape this weekend where mistakes were made and how he can improve. Duke’s other freshman, Amile Jefferson saw positive minutes tonight and scored 5 points in his debut. He played 13 minutes, and when he’s on the court you certainly feel his presence. He has a great knowledge of the game, he bothers the other team’s players on defense, and his emotional presence on the floor is huge coming off the bench. While Amile certainly needs to continue to get stronger by hitting the weight room, I do believe he can give Duke positive play in the minutes he sees this year.
Sophomore guard Quinn Cook is expected by many to be Duke’s starting point guard. He didn’t get that nod tonight, but we did get to see quite a bit of him running the show. Last year coming into his freshman year, Quinn was coming off of a knee injury that had him playing catch up to the rest of the Devils all season long. We saw flashes of what he can do and how good he could be, but it was nothing consistent. This year Quinn will be looking to change that. At times he did seem to be about a ½ second behind seeing a play. There were a few turnovers that if timed just a bit better would have become good plays for his teammates. It was the first game of the season, and Quinn will continue to grow and get better with game experience. He has all the tools to be a great point guard for Duke, and I believe we will see him claim that starting spot. We did see Quinn knock down two 3’s tonight, and he finished with 8 points.
Junior Josh Hairston logged 8 minutes, grabbed a rebound, but went 0-2 shooting tonight. Josh is a high energy guy off the bench that can knock down a mid-range shot pretty consistently. I believe he will see more minutes as the season continues, and he will provide hustle and do all those little things that may not show up in the stat sheet at the end of the night.
I found myself surprised not to see the likes of Alex Murphy not playing at all. Many Duke fans have had him starting or at least logging a lot of minutes for the Blue Devils this season. At 6’8, he is the small forward we sorely were lacking last season. After the game, it was said that it was the coaches decision that Alex did not play, and there is no injury. Whatever is going on with Alex, this Blue Devil fan hopes it is over and done with and we see Alex on the court. His size will improve the defense and will help with rebounding, and Alex showed over the summer playing for the Finland national team that he has the ability to be a high scorer and contributor to his team.
While this was far from the perfect Duke basketball game, it was a good first game of the new season. The team can take away things to improve upon as they look to next week where Kentucky is waiting to play the Blue Devils next. Mason Plumlee will again need to have the type of game he had tonight against Kentucky if the Blue Devils are going to beat the #3 team in the country. Duke has the experience and of course the winningest coach in men’s college basketball on their side when facing Kentucky, and this Blue Devil fan believes we can pull off the win.