When the stars became dim in Durham on Wednesday night, a collection of unheralded role players became charged with a momentous task: illuminating Cameron Indoor Stadium themselves.
Duke’s revered senior trio has handled the bulk of the heavy-lifting for the Blue Devils this season. The combination has boosted Coach K’s assembly to the top of the polls on three separate occasions. But rivalry games customarily require extra pairs of hands, so when North Carolina blitzed into town hungry for a signature win, Duke called on reinforcements to help with toting the load.
A cold-shooting Seth Curry, flustered Mason Plumlee and inactive Ryan Kelly left Krzyzewski scrambling for alternative plans at the intermission. Curry had mustered just two points on one-of-six shooting in the first half, an undersized sophomore playing out-of-position had hustled Plumlee over the first 20 minutes and Kelly, nursing a cryptic foot injury that’s sidelined him since mid-January, was relegated to moral support duty on the bench.
In all, Duke tallied just one team assist in the first half and its usually dependable upper classmen committed more turnovers (6) than they made field goals (5).
Then on came a lineup of pesky, unglamorous game-changers to brighten the night.
In response to North Carolina’s smaller lineup – which Roy Williams wisely implemented to utilize his best players at once, spread out Duke’s defense and open up the lane for offensive rebounding opportunities – Coach K countered with an equally creative lineup of his own.
Krzyzewski ran out a group featuring Curry, starting point guard Quinn Cook, backup floor general Tyler Thornton, freshman shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon and reserve forward Josh Hairston at the pivot. During a pivotal three-minute stretch early in the second half, that group of scrappy grinders turned a seven-point deficit into a one-point lead Duke would never relinquish.