Monday, February 14, 2011

Duke learns, grows in Miami

CORAL GABLES, Fla. - In losing one of its best players – albeit only for 11 minutes of the first half Sunday night at Miami – Duke might have found some answers in an 81-71 win.

With ACC scoring and assists leader Nolan Smith sidelined for more than half of the first half with an eye injury and foul trouble, Duke needed to get offense from elsewhere.

After the game, much of the credit for weathering the storm was given to sophomore guard Seth Curry, and rightly so. He scored 13 of his 16 points before halftime, taking over many of Smith’s ball handling and shooting duties.

And senior forward Kyle Singler provided his usual, steadying presence with nine of his 14 points in the first half. But other players emerged, too, while Smith was in the locker room getting treatment.

Miami didn’t guard sophomore forward Ryan Kelly in the high post in the first half, and he flashed to the elbow to hit four turnaround jumpers. Sophomore center Mason Plumlee hit for six of his 12 points in the first half, including 2-for-2 from the foul line for a player who’s in a protracted free throw slump.

On Duke’s final possession of the first half, Plumlee grabbed an offensive rebound and whipped a pass to brother Miles for a basket and a 42-37 halftime advantage. Although Mason Plumlee remains principally a rebounder and defender, he is slowly working his way into a more prominent role in the offense, with at least 12 points in three of the last four games.

What it all means for Duke, though, is uncertain. No. 1 Ohio State’s fall from undefeated status with a loss at Wisconsin on Saturday had reporters asking players and coach Mike Krzyzewski if the Blue Devils (23-2, 10-1 ACC), who were ranked No. 5 last week, for the No. 1 spot again.

Smith seemed surprised by the question and said Duke still is just trying to get better each day. Krzyzewski indicated that the team is still a couple months behind schedule because it practiced for the entire preseason and through December with freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, who was lost Dec. 4 to a toe injury and might not play again.

“I don’t know,” Krzyzewski said when asked about the state of his team. “I think we’re good. I’m not even thinking anywhere like that. Because we’re more into a December or early January [stage] with this team because of everything that happened with Kyrie. But we’re good. We’re a good team. We just have to use the regular season to keep getting better.”

Irving isn’t the only reminder of how fleeting a team’s delicate balance can be. Krzyzewski often says Irving was the best point guard in the nation when he was injured.

On Saturday, Florida State forward Chris Singleton, who’s probably the ACC’s best defender, suffered a broken foot that could cripple his team as it fights for a possible NCAA tournament berth.

“Look at what happened to Florida State,” Krzyzewski said. “You’re a play away from having your season change, and we know that.”

Smith’s absence Sunday, however brief, was yet another reminder. It also was an opportunity for other players who stepped forward and showed they are ready to make big contributions when needed.

Ken Tysiac


Anonymous said...

Dude, just stick to your pro Carolina stories. You ain't no fan of Duke and it shows. Anybody that reads your entries knows that. Stop trying to act unbiased!

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Anonymous said...

"In losing one of its best players"....

Are you arguing that Nolan Smith isn't Duke's best player (especially with Kyrie out)? The guy will be a Naismith finalist!