Freshman Day at Cameron: Sulaimon, Jefferson ignite Blue Devils past Maryland
Duke is more than a month away from Senior Night. And a share of the focus for frenzied students was on Maryland’s departure from the ACC for the Big 10.
But in the Blue Devils’ bounce back from a humiliating loss at Miami, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson turned Saturday’s 84-64 thumping of the Terrapins into Freshman Day at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Sulaimon scored a career-high 25 points, Jefferson was a deuce shy of his with 11 points, and the comfort zone of both grew within Duke’s tenacious defense. Although sure to drop from No. 1 in the country, the Blue Devils (17-2, 4-2 ACC) reaffirmed their position among the ACC elite with no turnovers in the second half, only four for the game and out-played a bigger, more physical opponent.
“This was a game to show what our character was like,” said Sulaimon, who made six-of-eight from 3-point range and 9-of-13 overall. “Are we going to fold after a big loss, or are we going to step up and be men?”
The freshmen stood as tall as any on this afternoon.
Jefferson made a bucket to end the first half, Seth Curry opened the second half with another to give Duke a 45-35 lead, and the lead was never below seven the rest of the way.
“It’s been an adjustment, to play as a collective unit on defense, to move with the ball and talk to the ball,” said Jefferson, whose nine rebounds were one shy of his career best. “There’s a lot of rotations, sometimes having to switch, talking things out, but it builds camaraderie as a team when you’re constantly talking on defense, constantly signaling guys to be somewhere. It’s making us better as a collective unit.”
Senior Mason Plumlee answered Alex Len’s first-half reverse jam that stirred the Cameron Crazies with a two-handed reverse slam on an offensive rebound in the last four minutes. Plumlee, who added 19 points, said the two freshmen starters are finding their place as Duke continues to adjust to the loss of senior Ryan Kelly.
“This is good, because we’re not going to have Ryan for awhile,” Plumlee said. “We’re kind of getting our identity, and those guys are comfortable in their starting roles, and they’re playing very well.”
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, after win No. 944, said Sulaimon showed his identity after being taken out early in the game following a mistake.
“When we took him out, we got on him,” Krzyzewski said. “He did something that I think is so terrific. He said, ‘I got you coach. I’ll do better.’ He just embraced responsibility. And anyone who embraces responsibility has a chance to do better.”
Three days after a 27-point drubbing at Miami, the Blue Devils did as well.
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