Despite Mason Plumlee’s foul trouble, Duke basketball outlasted Kentucky to defeat the Wildcats 75-68 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Here’s your postgame breakdown…
Revisiting the three keys to the game:
- Can Mason Plumlee assert his dominance over Nerlens Noel? — Offensively, yes. Defensively and on the glass, not so much. Plumlee had little problem scoring over the Wildcats and Noel, connecting on 7-of-8 shots and all four of his free throws en route to 18 points. Then there were the negatives. Plumlee found himself in foul trouble for most of the game — he wound up fouling out — committed five turnovers and managed just three rebounds. Noel, to his credit, had 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting with nine rebounds, three blocks, and four steals.
- Can Tyler Thornton continue to knock down open threes? — Unclear. Thornton attempted only one three-pointer, and misfired. Even though he started the game once again, he found himself on the bench for much of the first half and for the start of the second half while Quinn Cook saw increased action on the floor.
- Will Alex Murphy make his Duke debut? — Yes, but it was a forgettable debut. Murphy lasted just two minutes on the court and failed to record any stats. Amile Jefferson played just four minutes as the backup small forward as Mike Krzyzewski stuck with his three guard lineup against Kentucky’s size and athleticism.
Three key plays of the game:
- 17:41, second half: With the game tied at 37, Mason Plumlee passed the ball out of the block into the hands of wide open Rasheed Sulaimon who dutifully knocked down a three-pointer to give Duke a 40-37 lead. Sulaimon had been 0-for-7 before canning that three.
- 12:26, second half: Sulaimon was back at it again, this time taking a feed from Tyler Thornton and burying just his second basket of the game. That three-pointer extended Duke’s lead to double digits for the first time in the game, making the score 52-42.
- 1:11, second half: After connecting on two free throws to stop Kentucky’s 9-0 run and extend Duke’s lead to five, Alex Poythress answered with a basket of his own to cut the lead back to three. Curry took the ball back down the floor, got into the paint, evaded shot-blocking phenom Nerlens Noel, and netted his 20th and 21st points of the night.
Three key stats:
- Duke +5 in the turnover margin. The Blue Devils were able to put pressure on the Wildcats all game, forcing 13 turnovers compared to the eight Duke committed. Ryan Kelly led the way with three steals and numerous Blue Devils sacrificed their bodies to draw offensive fouls.
- 30 minutes for Quinn Cook. Cook once again came off the bench behind Tyler Thornton, but the minute disparity was turned upside down, as Cook received 30 minutes compared to the 20 he played against Georgia State, and Thornton played 20, down from the 30 he played last Friday. Cook’s stats — seven points, three rebounds, three assists — don’t speak to the level of his play. With the sophomore on the floor, the Duke offense was noticeably running more smoothly.
- Five fouls for Mason Plumlee. Plumlee was in foul trouble all night, but Josh Hairston and Ryan Kelly stepped up defensively to prevent the Wildcats from taking over the paint, and Seth Curry took on the scoring onus to keep Duke ahead. Plumlee left his mark on the game, scoring 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting, but played under 30 minutes due to his foul woes.
And the Duke game ball goes to… Seth Curry. Curry put the team on his back once Plumlee was forced to the bench with four fouls. The senior guard scored 14 of his 23 points after Plumlee picked up his fourth foul and connected on all of his free throw attempts in crunch time. Curry shot 50 percent from the field and hit three of five three-point attempts.
And the Kentucky game ball goes to… Alex Poythress. Honorable mention goes to Nerlens Noel, who scored 16 points, ripped down eight rebounds, blocked three shots, and came away with four steals. Poythress used matchup advantages to score 20 points on 9-for-12 shooting, 1-of-2 from three-point range, and grabbed eight rebounds of his own. Kentucky’s freshman small forward struggled in his debut against Maryland last week, but had no similar problems Tuesday night.