The first twenty minutes of basketball Duke played in 2013 were the worst they’ve put together since their last game of the 2011-12 season. The Blue Devils made only nine field goals in the first half, which equaled their free throws made in the half. They shot 40% from the field, below their season average of 48%. They made only 33% of the three-pointers taken, well below their season average of 42%. At 29 points scored, Duke came in over 7 points lower than their 1st half season average of 46.6.
More importantly than the entire team’s sloppy performance over the first twenty minutes was the play of their two high scorers, Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry. Plumlee, one of the leading candidates for National Player of the Year, did not play anywhere close to his season’s production. He only shot two shots, missing one, and had as many turnovers (4) as he did rebounds. Davidson coach Bob McKillop designed his defense around Plumlee, doubling the senior in the post whenever he touched the ball. After the game, Ryan Kelly had this to say about the frustrating strategy:
“They did something different defensively in that they double-teamed the post every time he got it, and they doubled it on the low side,” Duke senior Ryan Kelly said. “That’s something you don’t see very often. You can practice it for a few days before, but you’re not really going to experience it, except when you get on the floor.”
This was the first time all year that a team decided to gameplan explicitly around the big man. He has certainly faced double teams before, but McKillop isn’t known as one of the best coaches in the state of North Carolina for no reason. Mike Krzyzewski has long sung McKillop’s praises and noted that while other teams may try the same strategy, it’s not likely to be as successful.
“You may see it, but it’s not as good, and they don’t have the rotation like Bob’s team,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s what Bob’s team does. They have a veteran team, so I thought Mason overall did OK. When he kicked it out, I don’t know if we were ready. We didn’t cut, and we kind of left him stranded there a few times. It’s a difficult thing. I thought in the second half we did a much better job of getting open looks.”
No opponent has been able to fully slow down the Blue Devils this season, as they sit at #3 in Ken Pomeroy’s Offensive Efficiency Rankings (they were #1 before last night). So you can be assured that Davidson’s efforts at throwing a “team of defenders” at Duke’s best player will be replicated by the teams remaining on their schedule. Although the strategy forced Plumlee into his worst statistical game on the season, Duke still came away with a 17-point win on a neutral court. The Blue Devils, and Plumlee, will be ready to attack such a strategy in the future. Even after halftime, Duke made successful adjustments that brought them the win, as the discrepancies between the first twenty and second twenty show.
Plumlee, in particular, was much better towards the end of the game. While this strategy took Duke out of their offense, because the Blue Devils were still able to get a good win on a neutral court, this ugly victory may just be the most important on the season. Next time, they’ll be ready for it. And with the third best 3-point shooting team in the country you better believe they’ll make teams pay.
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