Duke has always been known for a high-powered offense and a stingy defense with Mike Krzyzewski constantly bringing in players who fit his system. Rasheed Sulaimon, the freshman guard from Houston, fits that bill almost too well and he had himself a coming out party against Ohio State.
After struggling in the first half, scoring no points, Sulaimon exploded for 17 in the second half to help spark Duke past the No. 4 team in the country and steal another top-five win. While the rest of the country was wondering where Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad were going to end up, most fans in Durham knew they already had a star ready to suit up.
“Sometimes you lose the game, and you spend two days showing tape and you hope they respond the next game,” said Krzyzewski of Sulaimon. “But this kid at halftime said ‘you’re right, I have to do something’ and he was sensational”
Sulaimon connected on 7-of-10 shots in the second half, including a huge three with 6:52 to play that brought Duke within three and set up back-to-back threes by Ryan Kelly that saw Duke push ahead for the rest of the game. His dunk with 1:04 to play put Duke up eight and effectively ended the game.
At 6-foot-4, Sulaimon doesn’t have the body to be an impact NBA player with his game — at least not at this juncture. This is particularly exciting for Devils fans because, unlike Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers before him, they know Sulaimon is going to stick around for awhile.
Sulaimon has been cautious in the early going, not wanting to step on the toes of such an experienced group. But for this team to be successful they will need more performances like Wednesday where he is aggressive and looking to make plays for himself.
“I just really wanted to attack, be aggressive, and look for my shot,” said Sulaimon of his second half. “I thought in the first half I was very passive. In the second half I started to look for my shot a little more, and I’m just very fortunate that they went in.
“I just really wanted to win for my team, whether that was on the defensive rebounding side, playing defense, or scoring the ball. I just wanted to do it.”
With a stretch of less-competitive games on the horizon now, this will be Sulaimon’s time to be an impact player on the wing while Seth Curry gets right with his leg injury. Opponents like Delaware, Elon and Santa Clara won’t require full-throttle efforts like Wednesday night and as such, players like Sulaimon will be called upon to be a bigger part of the game on both ends of the floor.
“I just told him, ‘You’re a heck of a player. You’ve shown it all year against great teams, so go show it in the second half,’” said Kelly. “And he did.”
Jimmy Kelley is the founder and lead writer for Devils in Durham. Follow him on Twitter@JKell17