Thursday, February 24, 2011

Emerging Curry, Thornton boost Duke

In each of the past two games, Duke’s final shot of the half has been attempted by one of the Blue Devils’ first-year guards.

Freshman Tyler Thornton delivered a runner for a basket 18 seconds before halftime against Georgia Tech on Sunday. On Wednesday, sophomore Seth Curry, a transfer from Liberty, hit a 3-pointer with one second left in the half that increased Duke’s advantage to seven points and deflated No. 24-ranked Temple in a 78-61 Blue Devil win.

“The last three at the end of the half kind of hurt us,” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. “I thought the momentum then swings back to them.”

The improved play of Curry and Thornton has been an important factor in Duke’s seven-game winning streak. The inexperience of both players showed early in the season, but now they seem comfortable in their roles.

Curry has started four straight games since he scored 22 points off the bench in a Feb. 9 win over North Carolina. He seems to have a knack for making 3-pointers in transition that stagger an opponent that’s struggling to stay in the game.

He did it on Jan. 27 against Boston College and Wednesday against Temple with a shot early in the second half that helped Duke extend its lead to double digits.

Thornton has sparked the Blue Devils’ offense with six first-half points in each of the last two games off the bench. Each player has improved significantly on his previous weaknesses.

A defense-first point guard, Thornton has become more confident with the ball and creates scoring opportunities for himself and teammates. Curry, who was the nation’s leading freshman scorer in 2008-09 at Liberty, has gotten better defensively to the point where he is bothering opposing ball handlers.

Curry scored nine points on 3-for-6 from the field and added three assists against Temple. He has played at least 34 minutes in five straight games and appears to be a steadying influence in the backcourt now.

Their emergence gives Duke stability in the backcourt. The big question now is whether sophomore Andre Dawkins is ready to add to it.

He totaled nine points over the previous five games before hitting a pair of 3-pointers for a six-point night in seven minutes against Temple. Sooner or later, the Blue Devils are bound to need big plays from Dawkins in the postseason.

Even last season as a freshman, Dawkins made a couple 3-pointers in the regional final against Baylor to help steady the team when forward Kyle Singler had a poor shooting performance.

But even if Dawkins continues to struggle, the Blue Devils are fortunate to have a couple guards in Curry and Thornton who are ready to play prominent, productive roles opposite ACC scoring and assists leader Nolan Smith.

Ken Tysiac


Anonymous said...

Anybody else think that Coach K might grab the wins record this season? He's 9 wins away (needs 35-win season to do it).

I'll hedge and assume Duke goes 2-1 against a desperate Va. Tech team, Clemson and UNC. They WILL win the ACC Tourney as usual. That gives them 31 wins going into the NCAAs. Would need a Final Four run to do it. Think it could happen?