Despite the loss(es), the Duke kids are all right

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C.J. Leslie, giving his best effort and respect to Duke and Mason Plumlee
For most college basketball teams, the reinventive time-span of rebounding from a monumental loss, can make days seem like months. But, for Duke, following their unsurprising 84-76 loss to then-No. 20 N.C. State seems like it happened so long ago that none of the issues or storylines born from that game require too much attention.

But, for housekeeping’s sake, let’s inhale a few things: Ryan Kelly’s foot injury has him out indefinitely—forcing Coach K to splice the combined play of Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee and Alex Murphy into a four-headed, 13-points-per-game force. Rasheed Sulaimon’s all-around slump—including a 0-10 shooting crisis against N.C. State—since the holiday break is just as mysterious as Seth Curry’s ailing leg.

Then, there’s still reason to wonder how much Duke expects Mason Plumlee to grimace and grapple near the basket, on both the offensive and defensive ends, without proper relief from younger brother, Marshall Plumlee.

Still, the Blue Devils will manage.

The kids are all right.

For N.C. State fans, last Saturday’s 84-76 win over No.1 ranked Duke was, indeed, a cause for court-storming, but it wasn’t the greatest achievement ever documented in mankind. According to the statistical gurus at The Wall Street Journal, “In the past 10 seasons, Duke has lost 31 true road games. Fans rushed the court after 25 of them (80.6 percent).”

Coach K called the Saturday’s celebration in PNC Arena “a sign of respect.” In this case, some of the greatest respect may have come from N.C. State star player and droop troop mascot C.J. Leslie, who rarely seems to give his team maximum leadership but somehow played against Duke as if it was the ACC Championship game.

The Wolfpack didn’t beat any real odds beyond nervousness and memories of their failure a year ago. Credit them for winning this first matchup and living up to the expectations most intelligent college basketball consumers had of them. In the end, the Blue Devils walked into the Wolftrap with multiple handicaps, lost a tough game to the rough-and-tough inside play of Richard Howell and Leslie’s game-high 25 points, and only dropped two spots to No. 3 in the nation.

The kids are all right.

At the center of all of the discussion about whether or not the Duke/ N.C. State rivalry was a real, breathing thing was the Rasheed Sulaimon vs. Rodney Purvis freshman matchup—an antagonism which started during the recruiting season when Duke signed Sulaimon instead of waiting on Purvis' questionable eligibility.

It might not have shown during last Saturday’s upset, but the Blue Devils decision to stick with Sulaimon is all the wiser. On the year, Sulaimon is averaging more points, assists, rebounds and steals per game than Purvis; he ping-pongs around the perimeter and into the lane with considerably more confidence and ease than his counterpart.

But, lately, Sulaimon’s been in a slump, making only nine of his last 40 shots. He’s not the same decisive, autopilot slasher that came out of the blocks earlier in the season when he was averaging 15 points per game, finishing at the bucket and knocking down key three pointers. But Sulaimon’s cool attitude comports well with Duke’s system of patience and maturity, and the betting here is that his slump won't last long.

In this second half of the season, when it counts most, both he and point guard Quinn Cook will have to grow up fast and direct the Blue Devils’ offense into the opportune holes where Ryan Kelly could be missing for a few weeks. They’ve already beat today’s No. 1 team in the nation (Louisville). The N.C. State loss was more of a truism than a tragedy. Duke fans could be forgiven for feeling confident that it won't happen again. The kids will be all right.

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