Nov 23, 2012; Paradise Island, BAHAMAS; Duke Blue Devils guard Quinn Cook (2) guards Virginia Commonwealth Rams guard Darius Theus (10) during the 2012 Battle 4 Atlantis in the Imperial Arena at the Atlantis Resort. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE

Battle 4 Atlantis: Duke Edges VCU, Leans on Defense to Advance to Title Game

In their quarterfinal games on Thanksgiving, Duke and Virginia Commonwealth hardly missed. The Blue Devils hit 8 of 10 3-pointers and shot 55-percent overall from the floor during their matinee meeting with Minnesota. The Rams sunk 13 shots from long-range to outpace Memphis.

Too bad that slick shooting didn’t carry over into Friday’s matchup, which was plenty compelling even without a hot-hand on the floor. Between the game’s frenetic pace, runs cobbled together by both teams and eyebrow-raising officiating throughout, the semifinal showdown between Duke and VCU didn’t disappoint.

Final Score: Duke over VCU, 89-71

Twitter-compatible recap:  Defense strong on both sides, shooting not. VCU wins battle of the boards, but Duke’s big free throw advantage proves to be the difference.

Nov 23, 2012; Paradise Island, BAHAMAS; Duke Blue Devils guard Tyler Thornton (3) and forward Josh Hairston (15) react against the Virginia Commonwealth Rams during the 2012 Battle 4 Atlantis in the Imperial Arena at the Atlantis Resort. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE

Free throws. The Rams didn’t hit them (they missed six of their final eight attempts). The Blue Devils did (24-27 FT). There’s your game. An under-the-radar storyline to monitor over the course of the season at Duke: Mason Plumlee is hitting his free throws this year. Plumlee, who hit 7 of his 8 attempts from the line on Friday, is shooting 80-percent from the charity stripe for the year. Not bad for a player who was a career 50-percent FT shooter coming into the year. The confidence to knock down shots at the line should allow Plumlee to assert himself more inside, no longer afraid of getting fouled and having to shoot free throws.

Shot selection. It wasn’t pretty [for either team]. The results weren’t either (Duke shot 42-percent from the floor, VCU 33-percent). Duke forced a number of ill-advised 3-pointers, rather than utilizing Plumlee’s size advantage inside as well as the team could have. VCU, meanwhile, waited too long to involve Juvonte Reddic in the offense. The senior forward finished with 16 and 13, but that scoring total could have looked much stronger had the Rams made a more concerted effort of feeding him in the post.

Doing it without bench scoring…again. Just one day after Duke trounced Minnesota despite only getting two points from its bench all afternoon, the Blue Devils received just three points from its bench on Friday. Coach K has already admitted as much: the Duke bench—which lacks a proven, capable scorer on the unit—will be asked to give fouls, play sound defense and manage the game while certain starters are catching their breath. So far the formula has worked. A similar formula won Duke a championship three seasons ago.

Handling VCU’s D: Although the team struggled in the half court offensively, Duke did a commendable job just to get to those situations. Coach K’s squad handled VCU’s stout full-court press with poise, turning the ball over just once on the night because of the press. Credit primary ball handler Quinn Cook and the multi-talented Mason Plumlee, who was dependable  as an emergency ball-handler. But don’t forget about Ryan Kelly on the in-bounds. He didn’t make a mistake on an in-bounds pass all night. More importantly, he kept the ball in the middle of the floor, away from the corners where the Rams like to trap.

Juvonte Reddic? He did get off 15 shots—most coming off his own offensive rebounds—but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t have been more. VCU did not run enough sets for Reddic, a problem which must be resolved by the time the team roll into conference play. The Rams sure aren’t shy about their 3s. The long ball, after all, is the team’s bread and butter in the half-court. But No. 15 is the ace of the team, and that needs to reflect in the offensive game plan.

Treveon Graham. Graham has reawakened the lost art of the pull-up midrange jumper, a shot he uses in transition as well as anyone in the nation. He didn’t go off for 26, as he did on Thursday against Memphis, but the sophomore guard was strong once again. Shaka Smart produces a breakout star seemingly every season. Graham is that guy this year.

Tags: Basketball Duke Blue Devils Virginia Commonwealth Rams

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