New-look Blue Devils coping without Kelly

Jan. 18, 2013 @ 05:01 PM

Duke still roams the top of the ACC standings, and it still roams the top of the national polls.

But midway through the season, now without Ryan Kelly, the Blue Devils are in search of an identity. They scratched out a little of it Thursday night, turning back Georgia Tech 73-57 in Cameron Indoor Stadium, and they’ll continue to find it each time they step on the floor.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski said point guard Quinn Cook is now having to run the offense more as opposed to playing offense, the difference of facilitating to weapons rather than working to find points. Teammates and the coach said freshman Rasheed Sulaimon bounced back from a low stretch with his best basketball in a month, since a win over Temple in mid-December.

Freshman Amile Jefferson also drew praise following a career-best 10 rebounds.

And like the old ballcoach who once roamed the sideline next door at Wallace Wade Stadium, Krzyzewski was using time-outs to implement strategies yet to be practiced.

“Coach was talking to us after the game,” said senior Mason Plumlee, the target of a leaping and excited Krzyzewski bear hug early in the second half. “The biggest thing is we have to find a new identity because we are a different team. Whatever that is, we have to find it. We have to play to our strengths. We’re not the same team that was 15-0.”

Plumlee said he had a tough first half, where he missed 10 of 12 shots, all near the basket. Krzyzewski said he was coaching no different than 1980, doing whatever his team needed.

“This is a huge adjustment for us with Ryan being out,” Krzyzewski said. “Because we’re Duke, everybody talks about redemption and struggles. But we have a new team.”

The matchup with the Yellow Jackets (10-6, 0-4 ACC) was Duke’s only game over 11 days between road trips to N.C. State last Saturday and league-leading Miami next Wednesday. But Krzyzewski said practice wasn’t necessarily what Duke (16-1, 3-1 ACC) needs.

“Between now and then Seth will practice once,” Krzyzewski said.

Curry’s shins have been problematic all season, with no improvement expected.

“So, we can practice, but you don’t create the continuity,” Krzyzewski said. “We already had a continuity going with Seth practicing like that because of the experience of those three guys together. That kind of made up for some of the lack of practice time. Now it is different.”

Sulaimon didn’t start for the first time this season, but was starting in the second half alongside Jefferson, who hasn’t started a game this season. The freshmen duo played well in Duke’s 34.5-percent field goal defense in the second half, and finished the game a combined 8-for-15 with 21 points and 15 rebounds.

“Every game, every half, we’re going to get a lot better,” said Curry, who scored a game-high 24 points. “We’re putting in new sets and things like that. In game action, we’re still working on what we need to do to get open looks.”

“We added some sets that fit the guys out there now,” Cook said. “The space on the floor isn’t where it usually is because Ryan is off the floor. Coach is doing more things. We have to adjust.”

Adjust, and find a new identity.

Contact the writer at awooten@hendersondispatch.com.