Coming into the championship game, Duke was viewed as the underdogs in this matchup against the number 2 ranked team in the country. They were said to have a great backcourt, they played a stifling defense that would slow you down, and they also had a deep bench that would keep them fresher. All of those things were probably true, but you can never count out the underdogs, especially when they are coached by Mike Krzyzewski.
Every game in this tournament Duke has faced a team that has been very well coached and very good on defense they met the challenge head on by beating those teams by playing real Duke basketball with intense defense also by playing together as a team. Last season’s Duke team lacked a true passion to play defense at times and there was too much standing around watching one person with the ball on offense. This year’s team has better chemistry and you can see that they really do care about sharing the ball and winning together. It doesn’t matter which guy is scoring as long as someone is.
By halftime it was easy to see the spark that led the Blue Devils was freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon. In the first half alone he had 11 points (5-10 FG’s), 4 rebounds, and 2 steals. He was attacking the basket as well as pulling up for mid-range jumpers. His contributions were not just on the offensive side; he also continued to show a maturity for his age as he played locked down defense. While listed at 6’4, Rasheed has a 6’8 wingspan that makes him our best perimeter defender as he bothers the opposing team’s guards with his length. Rasheed continued to play good defense in the second half, but cooled down his scoring as other guys on the team took over, but he did finish with 14 points on the night.
Seth Curry again had an off shooting night going (3-11) from the field, but 2 of his shots were 3-pointers that came at key times. One of them came right before halftime as time was expiring as Duke inbounded the ball to Curry who put up the shot from the corner as his defender was late getting to him, and that was all it took for him to drain the 3. His next 3-pointer came in the second half when Louisville was making a run closing in on the lead and Curry silenced them with a 3 right in front of the Duke bench. While Curry was struggling a bit with his shot, probably due to the fact of playing his third game in three days while dealing with a nagging leg injury, he did hit all six of his free throws to finish the game with 14 points.
Ryan Kelly continued his double digit scoring finishing the game with 14 points going (4-9) from the field and (6-8) from the free throw line. He also added 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks to add to his row on the stat sheet. Before Kelly eventually fouled out on a questionable call from the referees that really looked like he got all ball, Kelly did have a hand in what probably was the play of the game. A Louisville guard was taking the ball down the lane where Kelly was waiting. He blocked the shot that landed in Seth Curry’s hands, who then passed a bullet pass to a running Mason Plumlee that finished with a thunderous dunk on Duke’s end. All three seniors contributed on that play as time was running down in a game that looked to be going down to the wire.
Mason Plumlee continued his steak of scoring at least 15+ points a game. He finished (6-10) from the field as well as knocking down 4-5 free throws to finish with 16 points in the game as well as 7 rebounds and a block. Mason’s great play the entire tournament landed him a place on the Battle for Atlantis All-Tournament team along with teammate Quinn Cook.
Quinn Cook ended up taking home MVP honors of the tournament as he finished the game with 15 points and 6 assists. Quinn also converted on some crucial free throw attempts at the end of the game allowing Duke to stay ahead of Louisville and secure the win. Coming into the season many still had question marks about the point guard issue at Duke. Would Tyler Thornton continue to start for Duke, or would Quinn prove that he had developed enough to take over the role and help lead this team?I think that question has now been answered and can be put to rest as Quinn has clearly come into his own and proven he’s earned his spot on this team.
Duke also got good minutes from Tyler Thornton, Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson, and Alex Murphy when needed during the entire tournament. No matter how long they saw action on the floor, they are key parts of the team that help with defense and do the things that might not always show up in the stat sheets but still affect the game and the outcome.
Duke has now defeated the number 2 and 3 ranked teams in the country. They now look ahead to Wednesday night when the Ohio State Buckeyes will be coming to Cameron Indoor Stadium. This Duke team has risen to the challenges before them and have come out victorious as they rely on one another and play unselfish team basketball. If Duke can play Wednesday like they did in this tournament, I have no doubt that the Buckeyes will be receiving revenge from Duke for last season’s loss at Ohio State. Duke has now proven to their critics and doubters that they are a legit team that has a shot to be a true contender to not only advance far in the NCAA Tournament come March, but to win the National Championship.
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