No. 1 Duke remains unbeaten, turns back 11-win Santa Clara
Their stature won’t qualify them for big man on campus. Their collective play for the nation’s top-ranked college basketball team is another story.
Duke’s perimeter foursome of Seth Curry, Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and reserve Tyler Thornton delivered another lethal performance in a Cameron Indoor Stadium matinee Saturday. In turning back 11-win Santa Clara 90-77, Curry scored 31 points and the quartet’s defense eventually thwarted the veteran Broncos’ upset bid.
“In transition, they ran to the 3-point line, and they can shoot as well as anybody, so we had to get some stops,” Curry said of a 21-3 Duke run in the second half, erasing a four-point deficit in favor of a 62-48 lead. “Then we were able to get out and get some easy buckets. We also executed really well in the halfcourt down the stretch.”
Curry doesn’t dispute Duke (12-0) may have one of the best perimeters in the country. Sulaimon, at 6-foot-4, is the tallest; the rest are no bigger than 6-foot-2. Their chemistry includes a different asset individually toward the whole of the team on both offense and defense, mixed with a few similarities.
“We all do something different,” said Curry, the recognized scorer in the group. “Rasheed attacks off penetration. Quinn does a great job with the ball handling. Tyler brings a lot of energy. And we’re bulldogs on the defensive end.”
“We’re all feisty,” Cook said. “We’re smaller, so we have to be.”
Defensively, their interchangeable parts prevent fewer threats on man-to-man switches. Sulaimon has wingspan length, a pivotal tool for passing lanes. Cook, Curry said, excels “pestering” other point guards 94 feet. Thornton’s energy and toughness can deliver momentum swings, such as he did early in the second half against Foster (18 first-half points).
Curry, in a short time span, guarded the Broncos’ scorer (Foster), point guard (Evan Roquemore) and “2” guard (Raymond Cowells).
“We’re all different and pretty versatile,” Curry said.
“When you’re putting pressure on people, like we are, you extend your defense,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “When you put pressure on at the end of the exchange, to go the final step to get the rebound, is a very difficult step to make. That’s what we’re attempting to do. I think we’re improving, but it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Duke outrebounded the Broncos 40-28, and its defense shined with more turnovers forced (14) than assists allowed (nine).
The Blue Devils, who visit Davidson Wednesday in Charlotte to conclude non-conference play, had their usual double-double in points (22) and rebounds (13) from senior forward Mason Plumlee. But Cook said Plumlee can’t be required to get every rebound, and Curry assured the perimeter personnel try to take pressure off Duke’s dominating inside force.
“They were tough, a veteran team, and they made us better today,” Cook said.
Added Krzyzewski, “It was a very physical game. It wasn’t like a little physical, it was a big-time physical. They’re strong guys because they’re older. They’re a man’s team.
“We continue to play tough teams. Our schedule is not even close to anybody’s. And we’re going to keep playing teams that our game is their season.”
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