The Battle for Atlantis kicked off for the Blue Devils facing a tough defensive and athletic team in the Minnesota Gophers coached by Tubby Smith. Duke maintained a lead throughout the game, turnovers allowed Minnesota to stay within striking distance, when it came down to it the Devils kept hitting key shots when it counted to allow Duke to eventually pull away and get the win 89-71 to move into the next round in the tournament.
From the start it was easy to see that the Gophers really had no answer for Mason Plumlee. Plumlee was coming off of a career high in scoring in the Blue Devils previous game, and he continued to show his dominate presence from the moment the game began. The changes Mason has made in his game are incredible to see. He is now clearing space in the paint to get himself in great positioning, he is calling for the ball from his teammates, he is going up strong every play, and if a shot does not fall for him he is athletic and explosive to be able to go right back up for the rebound and put the ball in. Another key improvement has been Mason’s free throw shooting. During his freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons Mason was shooting free throws in the 40-50% range, but this season it has jumped significantly shooting 78%. This is just another part of his game that has matured and will allow him to be an even bigger threat on the floor, if he can continue to hit at that rate. Mason finished with 20 points 17 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block for the game.
While Mason showed what he could do on the inside, Seth Curry showed us his sweet shooting stroke and moves that come from being a member of the Curry family like his father Dell and older brother Stephen. Curry shot 8-11 and 3-3 from 3 point range as he finished with a team high 25 points. Seth is still battling a leg injury that is going to be problematic as the season continues, but Seth is still managing to find a way to keep playing and producing at a high level for the Blue Devils. Aside from knocking down his outside shots, you can see Seth has continued to improve on his ability to put the ball on the floor to get to the basket as well as pull up from mid-range to drain a shot with a step back move he has not really had in past seasons. He is still hustling for loose balls on the floor even though most Duke fans are watching with bated breath as he comes up gingerly at least once or twice a game, but he continues to play on through whatever pain and discomfort he is having. His play and leadership continues to be very valuable as this team progresses though the season.
While most of the attention was on the other two seniors on the squad, Ryan Kelly quietly continues to be a force on both ends of the floor. Throughout the season we have seen Ryan playing excellent defense on his man, he is hustling for loose balls and has become a bigger threat at blocking shots as he recorded 3 in this game against Minnesota. He knocked down 1-2 from 3 point range. At 6’10 opposing defenses have to respect his ability to hit the long ball, and it continues to allow Duke to spread the floor. He finished the game with 14 points and 6 rebounds.
Sophomore guard Quinn Cook certainly showed he is ready to be Duke’s starting point guard. His presence on the floor allows Duke another capable scorer from long range or getting into the lane for a shot of his own or to kick the ball to a teammate. Quinn knocked down 3-4 from 3 point range and finished with a career high 17 points from the field in the Blue Devil victory, and he also dished out 4 assists as well. Quinn continues to show that he is very capable of running this team efficiently being a leader on the floor, and controlling the tempo of the game. He did have four turnovers in the game, but as he continues to get game experience, the timing of some passes will get better and get to their intended target.
Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon continues his impressive basketball style. His ability to knock down 3 point shots as well as his ability to penetrate to the basket shows a maturity that has him fitting right in with the older Duke players on the floor. He again scored in double figures finishing with 11 points in the game. Aside from his offensive game, Rasheed continues to also be one of Duke’s best defenders on the team. His long wing span and hard work ethic makes him a vital part of Duke’s defense especially on the perimeter. Rasheed is continuing to grow and learn the game, but the future looks incredibly bright for him.
Freshman Amile Jefferson came off the bench and was the only reserve that scored in the game. Amile is continuing to adjust to the college level, and he is proving to give positive minutes coming off the bench when he is put into the game. His defensive presence has the ability to bother opposing players, and he will continue to grow into his offensive game as he gets stronger and plays more games.
Juniors Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton both came off the bench to provide the Devils with veteran leadership as well as provide defensive pressure. Both are hustle and glue guys that are key to the Devils continued success. The two have the ability to score and do all those little things that may not show up in the stat sheet. Redshirt freshman Alex Murphy only checked into the game at the very end, but did manage to record a rebound during his time on the floor. Alex has the tools to be a good player for Duke this season. He will need to continue working hard in practice and have positive minutes during game action and prove to the coaching staff he is ready to contribute.
This was a good win for the Blue Devils against a very good defensive Minnesota team. All 5 starters for Duke scored in double figures, and the leadership on this team continues to carry the load with contributions from the younger guys. Next up for the Blue Devils will be a matchup against VCU, also a chance for redemption from a loss to VCU in 2007 that is still a bitter taste in the minds of many Blue Devil fans. VCU will provide a tough minded athletic team that will not be easy to defeat, but in the end if Duke continues to play as a team like they have been so far this season, they will get the win and move onto the championship game in the Battle for Atlantis tournament.
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