It wasn’t as easy as some would expect to get the final win at Cameron for Duke, finishing their home stand in the regular season with a perfect record. They won’t be winning the ACC title, going to a surprising team, but probably don’t have to worry about getting that #1 seed for the NCAA tournament.
Senior night often has twists and turns in it, and for about 30 minutes of basketball, finishing perfect at home for the 17th time in school history didn’t look like a sure thing. But a 20-2 run to end the game, with Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry all chipping in to provide the fireworks made sure Virginia Tech weren’t going to spoil the party, beating the Hokies 85-57.
How important is it for Duke to get that number 1 seed? It’s pretty much the difference between going all the way and not. Since 1995, Duke has 4 Final Fours and 2 National Championships as a 1-seed. As a 2-seed? They’re just 4-4 and haven’t made it past the sweet 16 round, so yeah, getting this big win over V-Tech and hopefully beating North Carolina to end the regular season isn’t just about pride: It might mean how well they do in the really important stage of the season.
It’s hard to focus until you realize you’re about to lose or it’s possible you could lose. We’re emotionally spent. We’re not as physically spent as we are emotionally. It’s been a heck of a thing. I’m proud of our guys. I thought the three seniors just asserted themselves in the second half.
Along with Quinn Cook, the only non-senior in the leading group for Duke, it were the “retiring” players that took over the job of getting Duke out of a sticky situation. Ryan Kelly, the man who seems to be the key in their plans for a long-as-possible tournament, finished with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists, averaging 27 points since coming back from an injury that made him miss most of the conference schedule.
Seth Curry led the way with 20 points, going 20 or more for the third time in five games, going on a terrific 5-9 from beyond the arc. Mason Plumlee, the man often criticized when things don’t go well for Duke added 14 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Cook had 14 as well.
Rebounding’s obviously something that, in the past, hasn’t been our biggest strength. And if you can take your lesser strengths and make them bigger strengths, you can be a really good team.
Duke won the rebounding battle 36-29, especially doing well in the second half, grabbing 12 more rebounds than Virginia Tech. Whatever it was that was holding them back during the first 20 minutes – fatigue or simply jitters for some of the players because they were playing in Cameron for the final time in their careers, it went away the moment Ryan Kelly took control of everything. He may not be Duke’s most talented player, but his ability to stretch the floor and do a little bit of everything will probably be what decides how far they go this season.