Sunday, February 12, 2012

Duke carries momentum forward

DURHAM – No. 10 Duke had a strong second half Saturday afternoon, maintaining its momentum from Wednesday’s win over North Carolina with a 73-55 victory against Maryland at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

From Miles Plumlee’s monster effort on the glass (22 rebounds, an all-time high for a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team) to Seth Curry’s steady offensive performance, there were a lot of things the Blue Devils had to like about the win.

Here are three of the more encouraging things Duke can take from the victory:

1. Miles Plumlee morphs into Brian Zoubek

Of all the things Duke had to like about Saturday, the possibility of Plumlee assuming Zoubek’s mantle has to be the highest on the list. Against Maryland two seasons ago, Zoubek kicked off a robust conclusion to his senior campaign by scoring 16 points and grabbing 17 rebounds, becoming a force down low over the final six weeks to help lead the Blue Devils to the NCAA title.

Whether Plumlee’s effort was a one-game thing or something more, Krzyzewski was nonetheless encouraged by Plumlee’s response to the coaching staff showing the team highlights of Zoubek’s game against Maryland.

“We showed what that team two years ago did on this weekend against Maryland, which kind of pushed us in a really good direction where a youngster went from being good to being great,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m not going to put that on Miles, but he was great today. I don’t know if he can keep doing that, but the fact that he’s done it is a nice turn.

“It’s not like he’s played poorly – he’s done a really good job, just like Brian had done a good job. From that day on, Zoubek was great and we won a national championship.”

2. Austin Rivers plays within himself

Compared to his spectacular effort against the Tar Heels on Wednesday, Duke’s freshman guard was quiet against the Terrapins, scoring 11 points.

After his career night against UNC, it may have been easy for Rivers to assert himself offensively and show that he is the star of the Blue Devils’ offense. Instead, Rivers didn’t force the issue, seeming to realize he wasn’t especially sharp while allowing his teammates attack the Terrapins.

That’s noteworthy because three weeks ago Rivers likely would have taken a couple of ill-advised shots or driven into the teeth of the Maryland defense in an effort to get himself going. There was little of that Saturday, which, in a sense, is almost as encouraging for Duke as Rivers' performance on Wednesday night.

“I talked to him briefly after the game and just said you played well defensively and rebounding wise,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s really difficult to come back after doing that and the whole world is talking about your shot.”

3. The Blue Devils played well in consecutive games

It’s been since the early part of January that Duke have strung together two solid efforts that have resulted in a win.

Given the unpredictable nature of this team, it wouldn’t have been a complete shock had the Blue Devils struggled against the Terrapins. Instead, they put together a second half that ranks as one of their better 20 minutes of the year.

“I would like to think we could take a step up after these two games,” Krzyzewski said.

Added Rivers, “I think it shows maturity as a team. For us to win against North Carolina – a less mature team would play loose and lose the game. For us to come in here and play a team that really needed a win … that shows maturity as a team and is a big momentum thing for us right now. We’ve got to ride this in a positive direction.”

--Jack Daly