ACC / Big Ten Challenge: Plumlee, Sulaimon Help Duke Rally Past Ohio State

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Ohio State dominated the glass in the first half, pulling down 11 offensive rebounds in the period and taking advantage of Duke’s overplay defense [which leads to interior defenders being pulled away from the hoop and out of rebounding position]. For a while, the Buckeyes also controlled the backcourt battle, blanketing Seth Curry on defense and smothering Quinn Cook when he had the basketball.

Cook was too tentative, Curry couldn’t create space to get off quality shots [and he was clearly not healthy] and Kelly combated foul trouble all night. Yet the ACC’s best never went away. When Duke’s offense sputtered with Kelly on the bench—the Blue Devils went more than 10 minutes without a field goal during one stretch in the first half—the Buckeyes failed to create enough separation to put the game on ice. Their mistake.

Freshman sensation Rasheed Sulaimon took control in the second half while the breakout sophomore Cook came alive again in the clutch, notching 12 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds in the second frame alone. The play of the young guns, along with a steady dose of Mason Plumlee—who was utilized offensively in all kinds of ways (not just as a screen setter, Duke haters)—and the timely shooting of Kelly were enough to power the Blue Devils to another signature win, this one of the gut-check variety.

Against a ball-hawking defense that feeds off forced turnovers, Duke committed just eight all game—most in the first half and none forced by Aaron Craft. The Blue Devils demonstrated the signature poise which has made Duke a perennial November/December juggernaut during Coach K’s distinguished career.

This Duke team has a calming disposition that last year’s tournament underachievers sorely lacked. Austin Rivers may have taken his divisive presence with him to the NBA—lucky for Duke—but he left behind a killer instinct and gamer mentality that has caught on with the rest of the team.

These Blue Devils seem to relish playing with and for one another. They’ve embraced the big stage, soaked up the spotlight and welcomed the adversity that comes with the territory. Mason Plumlee wanted the ball in the first half, as Duke’s offense became unhinged. Rasheed Sulaimon wanted to take those big perimeter shots late in the second half. Quinn Cook wanted to shoot free throws with the game on the line (against Ohio State and Louisville).

Clearly, all three Duke players wanted the No. 1 ranking too. If a “teaching win” over feisty Ohio State paired with two more wins against former top-three teams doesn’t earn that distinction, the biggest “teaching loss” of the week belongs to the simpletons voting in these polls.

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