Duke’s 16-point win over the Virginia Cavaliers Saturday afternoon in Durham mostly reflects the last 13 minutes of the game. Until then, Duke struggled through the same mire of torpor and tepid offense that led to their first loss of the season Wednesday against Florida State.
In the first half, for instance, the Devils made only one of their 12 three-point attempts, despite shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc during the season’s first 16 games. But Andre Dawkins missed his three tries, as did Kyle Singler; Seth Curry missed a pair, while Nolan Smith erred on three of his four attempts. Mason Plumlee missed a dunk and turned the ball over three times. In face, during the first half, Duke turned the ball over nine times, despite only three assists The visiting Cavaliers turned the ball over only six times; Virginia headed into the locker room with a six-point lead at the half.
“I don’t think we were playing that badly,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski after the game, “but we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket.”
The second half looked as though it would offer more of the same for the throng of Cameron Crazies. Duke picked up three fouls in the half’s first three minutes and turned the ball over, too. Virginia’s lead swelled to nine twice, handing Duke their largest deficit in Durham all year. But the shots finally started falling: Dawkins ended the game with 14 points and a trio of threes, two of which came consecutively and pushed Duke’s lead into double digits. Smith’s tireless efforts inside earned him 29 points.
The same Devil stamina and speed that nearly every opposing coach has mentioned after each contest this year again gave the Devils the edge, allowing them to increase the speed of the game and nab late rebounds. Duke grabbed 21 rebounds in the second half, including seven on their own end of the floor. Mason Plumlee grabbed 16 rebounds—a season best for the Devils—by game’s end, making up for his poor shooting and turnovers inside.
That rebounding power from the younger Plumlee is but one of a handful of sure signs of improvement for the Devils, who lost standout freshman point guard Kyrie Irving in early November to a toe injury. Dawkins and freshman guard Tyler Thornton are showing more ease bringing the ball up the court, a move that mobilizes Smith to move toward the basket. Ryan Kelly is slowly becoming the team’s workhorse, too, delivering an emphatic eight points and a monster block in today’s win.
“We just need to keep trying to get better. I know you’re going to get sick of hearing me say that,” Krzyzewski said of his top-ranked Devils. “We’ve got a lot of young guys with those veterans who need to get that ACC experience.”