A back-and-forth first four minutes made it look like Duke was going to be in for another battle with ACC foe Boston College, but the Blue Devils made quick work of that notion by rattling off separate runs of 12-0 and 12-2 to earn a 51-27 lead at the break. Career days from Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson helped lift the Blue Devils while three other players reached double digits in the win.
The two freshmen combined to score 41 points with Sulaimon’s 27 doubling as the game-high. The freshman from Houston looked every bit the super recruit he was billed as coming in, connecting on 10-of-15 shots from the field and scoring in every way imaginable.
Jefferson (14 points, 5-for-7 FG, 4-for-5 FT) did his work off the bench and looked like a completely different player than the one who was benched against the Eagles just two weeks ago. He was flying around the court on defense, picking up a block and a steal, and finished strong at the rim three different times to earn and-one three-point plays. It’s play like today that will earn Jefferson the crunch-time minutes going forward.
As for the other three double-digit players, Mason Plumlee (19 points, 15 rebounds), Seth Curry (11 points) and Quinn Cook (12 points, 3 assists, 2 steals) all played their parts well. Ultimately, however, this will be a day remembered for the young guns.
“Rasheed had a sensational game, and one of the things he did today was he played through contact and finishing instead of trying to just get the shot off, he played through contact and it’s a sign of growth,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “He made a lot of outstanding plays today and Amile did the same thing. Amile played through contact and that’s one of the things you have got to learn about the game.”
The other part of Sulaimon’s game — the part that should ultimately win him ACC Freshman of the Year — was his defense. He spent most of the day hounding BC’s star freshman Olivier Hanlan and completely took him out of his game. Without Hanlan effecting the game on the offensive end of the court, the Eagles offense was forced to become one-dimensional and Duke was able to really stretch the lead.
Ryan Anderson finished with 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting and did all he could to show that despite his teammates’ play, he is someone who every ACC fan, writer, coach and player should consider one of the league’s top players. He didn’t get much help today, but Anderson certainly forced his way into my All-ACC internal dialogue (yes, I have one of these daily).
The biggest take away from Sunday’s game will be the effectiveness of the freshmen when leaned on to carry the scoring load. Will bigger teams have their way with Jefferson? Possibly, but Sulaimon proved today that he is capable of being not just a third option, but Duke’s primary scorer from the wing. That will be big going forward as Krzyzewski looks for any excuse to take some pressure off Curry’s legs down the stretch run of this season.
The other big news of the day? Ryan Kelly wants to be back for senior day.
“There’s no question I’d love to play on Senior Night,” Kelly said. “That’s something that, as a Duke basketball player that’s been here this long, you look forward to.
“This week coming up is a big week, obviously, as the season is getting shorter and shorter. I’ve done a lot of stuff on the court in the last few days but not a lot of running on the court. I’ll have to pick that up. I’ve been doing most of my running in the pool, but I feel really good about it and my foot’s feeling good. As this week progresses, I think I can become more and more a part of practice.”
Jimmy Kelley is the founder and lead writer of Devils in Durham. Follow him on Twitter @DevilsInDurham.