Duke makes point with comeback
DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke forward Ryan Kelly says he tends not to get a lot of sleep after games, tossing and turning and thinking about all of the things he should-have-could-have-might-have done.
But after Wednesday night's 73-68 come-from-behind victory over No. 4 Ohio State, the senior thought it might be a bit easier to snooze -- because of all the things he and his teammates did do.
A year after the Buckeyes shellacked Duke by 22 points in a decidedly one-sided bout (leaving Kelly sleepless for a couple of days), the second-ranked Blue Devils gritted, shot and rallied their way back from a 10-point deficit not only to avenge last season's loss but to make their case as the top team in the nation.
Wednesday's raucous victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium marked the third time this month the undefeated Blue Devils have topped a top-five foe, (following wins over then-No. 3 Kentucky on Nov. 13 and then-No. 2 Louisville on Nov. 24). According to ESPN Stats & Information, it's the first time since 1965-66 that Duke has won multiple regular-season nonconference games against squads ranked in the top five of The Associated Press poll.
"I've liked my group, but you just don't know if they have the confidence, the endurance, the togetherness to go through a stretch like this," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team extended its nonconference home winning streak to 97 games (the longest active stretch in Division I). "It would be hard to find anybody who has been through a stretch like this, and they've gotten better. I knew my team was together, and through accomplishment, they've gotten more together."
That unity is an important key for a team that wasn't always so together. So was defense (OSU, led by 16 points from Deshaun Thomas, shot 33.8 percent for the game). And energy in a Cameron-crazed, eardrum-vibrating atmosphere usually reserved for rival North Carolina. Plus key performances from some key players.
• After missing both of his shots in the first half, and getting a talking to at halftime, freshman wing Rasheed Sulaimon -- whose length and defense on the perimeter were sorely missing last season -- came out more focused and energetic after the break, burying his first jumper of a 17-point second half less than two minutes in.
"For a freshman to respond that way is superb; it just doesn't happen very often," Krzyzewski said. "Sometimes, you lose the game and spend two days showing tape and hope they respond the next game. This kid at halftime said, 'They're right, I've got to do something,' and he was sensational."
• Next, with 17:45 left and Duke trailing by 10, forward Mason Plumlee -- all-too-often an afterthought in the post a season ago -- threw gasoline on an already ignited crowd by converting a high-jumping transition alley-oop on a pass from point guard Quinn Cook. He finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds.
• Then there was Kelly, a senior leader who had buried only 4 of his 17 3-point attempts entering the game, but whose back-to-back treys around the 6-minute mark tied the score, then put Duke ahead, for good.
"We were kind of hoping he hadn't found his rhythm yet, and he obviously did tonight," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "He had clean looks and it was falling and he knocked it down."
• And don't forget Cook, who didn't shoot particularly well (3-for-10 from the field), but who hit six free throws in the final 27 seconds to seal the victory -- and reinforced his emergence as starting point guard.
"I have unbelievable guys on my team because they beat a heck of a team, but they played four games like that in seven days," Krzyzewski said. "They got knocked back in the first half, and then they played great in the second half, and then fought."
Indeed, with three victories over teams that played in last March's Final Four -- and against Minnesota and VCU in the Battle 4 Atlantis -- the Blue Devils boast something most squads don't this early in the season: insight into who they are and perhaps what they can be.
"We've seen a level of maturity out of our team, and a level of confidence that we can do whatever it takes to win," Kelly said. "Those are good signs."
Maybe even good enough to get a little shut-eye.
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