Duke Blue Devils – Should Have Been Easier

It’s never easy in a rivalry game, even at home. Still, the number two team in the nation right now, Duke, probably should have done a little bit better facing a so-so North Carolina team, that made life very difficult for a group of guys many think are a bit overrated regarding their national championship hopes.

It was a story of two halves, as Duke simply turned up the heat in the second, went to a small lineup while Mason Plumlee hit the bench and Tyler Thornton came up with the goods in the important minutes. Duke lost the turnovers battle, but they lost it early, while shooting better from the field than the Tar Heels, who fell to 6-5 in the ACC after the 68-73 in Cameron Stadium. According to Roy Williams, their slightly frustrated head coach, it was all a matter of making shots from the line.

The bottom line is, we didn’t make free throws today. We’re not a good free throw shooting team in games. We needed them to miss a couple of those, to say the least. We needed to make a couple of ours. 

The Tar Heels made only 56.5% of their shots from the line, while Duke made 85% of their shots. Four points more from the free throw line in all. Probably the entire difference.

They were led by Quinton Cook who scored 18 points and Mason Plumlee who added 18 as well, but it was Tyler Thornton with 9 points off the bench, a Junior who averages only 3.5 points per game this season, that made the key plays when Duke needed it the most, avoiding their first home loss of the season and their third overall.

It’s just the heart and the will to want to win. specially coming down the stretch, you’ve got to go all out and leave it on the floor, and I think we did that.

Duke shot 52% from the field in the second half, and simply eliminated the Tar Heels’ transition game, not that it’s been too hot this season in general. They scored two transition points in the second half Wednesday, and had twice as many turnovers (4) as made field goals (2) in transition for the game. They’re averaging 5.8 fewer transition opportunities per game compared to non-conference games, with only 12 points (9 against Duke) a night on transition plays in the ACC. In the first half, Duke allowed North Carolina to score 12 points off 11 first-half turnovers; they slimmed it down to only four off of six in the second half.

It came down to a big run after the Tar Heels took a 38-31 lead early in the second half to get Duke going. They went on a 21-9 run, with Rasheed Sulaimon (13 points, 5 assists) scoring or assisting on 13 of those points. Tyler Thronto hit two of his three 3-pointers of the game during that run, that pretty much turned the game around and made it six out of the last eight for Duke in their meetings with their biggest rivals.

I like him because he can get angry; I don’t think players get angry like they used to, and that comes easy for me. But I think anger is an emotion that gets you past being tired, it gets you past something. If anger destroys something bad, then it’s good. If it destroys something good, then it’s bad. Tyler’s anger, his competitiveness was really good for us tonight.

When Seth Curry had a rough night scoring 11 points on 3-10 from the field, and Plumlee struggled closing down the lane to P.J. Hairston (23 points) on a big night, all Mike Krzyzewski needed was a little bit of anger from Thornton, and a little bit more of bad shooting from the line.

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