Blue Devils Went Down To Georgia, Found Their Heart And Soul…

Posted by ARowe on November 14th, 2012

Everyone’s talking about how great Duke’s seniors were against the freshmen of Kentucky. And they deserve every ounce of praise they’re getting.

Seth Curry was amazing down the stretch. He’s been fighting through a shin injury over the last few months and has only been able to participate in four practices so far this season. Even then, he was a limited participant. His first organized game of basketball in two months was Duke’s second exhibition game against Winston-Salem State, where his rust showed. Battling like the tough competitor that he is, Curry logged 34 minutes in an intense game and showed no ill effects of the nagging pain. He somehow seemed to get better as the game wore on, scoring 13 of his 23 points in the final 13:13 with Mason Plumlee on the bench for six of those minutes.

Duke’s Guys Were Ready in Atlanta Last Night (credit: Duke Blue Planet)

Mason Plumlee played like a man possessed early in the game. Kentucky’s defense was clearly geared to stop him, but Nerlens Noel could not contain Plumlee down low. He scored six of Duke’s first nine points and 14 of their first 27. Not only did he put up 18 points on 7-8 shooting, he was perfect from the line and found open shooters on the wing with smart kick-outs as Kentucky’s defense collapsed around him in the paint.

In the battle of “seniors vs. freshmen”, Kentucky had only one player who had logged meaningful minutes last season — Kyle Wiltjer. Watching Kentucky’s game against Maryland, it was clear that Wiltjer was the key to the Wildcats’ offense as he put up 19 points on 67% shooting. Not known as a defensive stopper, Ryan Kelly matched up perfectly with Wiltjer and completely took him out of the game.  Wiltjer was only able to get five shots off against the senior, connecting on two of them for five total points.

But Duke’s junior class deserves a ton of praise as well. The two remaining members of the self-dubbed “Trio” (in addition to Kyrie Irving), Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton have been dismissed through much of their college career as bench players who wouldn’t contribute much. Looking at Thornton, ranked outside the top 100 coming out of high school, and Hairston, a player between positions at the college level, against the shine of UK’s top-ranked recruiting class make their contributions in this game that much more remarkable. When Duke’s 5-star recruit Mason Plumlee sat down on the bench with two fouls at the 11:55 mark of the first half, many observers (myself included) assumed UK’s 5-star recruit Nerlens Noel would start to have his way. But Hairston came in, giving up four inches to Noel, and forced him out of position on possession after possession. He more than held his own on the defensive end while putting back two missed shots as Duke was able to extend their lead with Plumlee off the court.

1st Half

  • Plumlee sitting from 11:55 to 9:55 – Noel scored two points on a dunk
  • Plumlee sitting from 5:10 to 2:30 – Noel scored two points on a pair of free throws
  • Plumlee sitting from 2:19 to 1:59 – Noel scored two points on a pair of free throws

2nd Half

  • Plumlee sitting from 16:04 to 10:05 – Noel scored two points on a layup

Over 11 minutes and 20 seconds with Plumlee off the court, Noel put up eight points, with four of those coming off free throws. The stars by the side of the players’ name coming out of high school can’t measure heart and soul, which Hairston has in bunches. Thornton started the game at point guard over another blue chip recruit, Quinn Cook, and kept the team within four points before Cook came in the game. With Plumlee out, Duke switched to a three-guard lineup and Thornton was forced to defend bigger players. He handled the job like he does every time he’s in uniform, with grit and determination. Coach K said after the game that Thornton gets the other team’s best offensive player as his assignment each game.

While their accomplishments may not show in the box score each game and they likely won’t walk across the stage on draft day to receive a hat from Adam Silver, these are the players who make college basketball so special. They’re the ones we get to watch grow up, the ones we get to know and become attached to. The convenient story is that Duke’s experience overcame UK’s talent to win this game. But looking closer, Duke’s rank-and-file players were able to beat UK’s stars at the game of basketball. How it is played, and how it should be played.

ARowe (7 Posts)

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