A year removed from a 22-point defeat at the hands of Ohio State, the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils had this season’s rematch heavily circled on this season’s calender.
Trailing for the majority of the contest, Duke was able to rally behind much improved play from their backcourt in the second half, another double-double performance from Mason Plumlee and two key outside shots from Ryan Kelly to defeat No. 2 Ohio State, 73-68. The victory pushed the Blue Devils (7-0) non-conference home winning streak to 97 straight games — the longest active streak in the country.
Plumlee finished with 21 points and a career-high-tying 17 rebounds, including an incredible lob-dunk off a pass from Quinn Cook in the second half that sent the Cameron Crazies into a frenzy. He also finished 9-of-12 from the free throw line, again establishing himself as a leading candidate for National Player of the Year. Cook, coming off an MVP performance at the Battle 4 Atlantis, was stellar with 12 points, eight assists, six rebounds and just three turnovers.
Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon struggled in the first half as he was held scoreless on only two attempts, but bounced back mightily scoring all 17 of his points in the second.
“I let my teammates down in the beginning, not playing as well as I could be, and (coach Mike Krzyzewski) really got on me at halftime,” Sulaimon said. “I just love these guys and wanted to go out there and respond.”
The Buckeyes (4-1) controlled the majority of the game behind their offensive rebounding prowess and terrific ball movement stifling the Duke defense. Led by Deshaun Thomas, who scored 16 points for the game, Ohio State held a 31-23 halftime lead. For the most part, it looked like Duke’s impressive run early in the season was going to come to a sudden halt once again to the Buckeyes. That wasn’t the case on this night.
Within striking distance for the entire second half, timely outside shooting from Ryan Kelly in the late stages of the game propelled Duke to their first lead since early in the first half. With the Blue Devils trailing, Kelly drained a three to tie the game at 53 apiece. On the ensuing possession, he hit a go-ahead three that gave Duke the lead with 5:40 remaining. The Blue Devils never looked back as Kelly finished with a season-high 15 points.
“We had to prove as a team that after winning a championship (Battle 4 Atlantis), we could put that behind us and take the next step,” Kelly said after the game. “Last year is last year, but we couldn’t make that step last year. This is a whole new team. We’re confident, and we’re ready for the next one.”
With the win, Duke improved to 12-2 all-time in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and kept their undefeated record at Cameron Indoor Stadium intact at 5-0. The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Buckeyes, as they dropped to 5-6 in the Challenge.
Duke owns the most impressive resume in the country with yet another victory over a top-five team. They have now defeated (then) No. 3 Kentucky, No. 2 Louisville and now No. 4 Ohio State, marking the fifth time in school history that the Blue Devils have knocked off three teams ranked inside the top-five in one season. Adding to that, they also have wins over No. 21 Minnesota and arguably the best three-loss team in the country, VCU.
After the ups and downs of last season, the losses of Austin Rivers and Miles Plumlee and the sudden redshirt of Andre Dawkins in the offseason, there was a ton of question marks revolving around this Duke team. Where will the scoring come from? Has Mason Plumlee improved enough to become the player that Duke expected earlier in his career? Could Quinn Cook take that next step and elevate his game at the point guard position? Will their defense improve significantly off a historic-low last year? Seven games into the season, Duke has answered each and every question emphatically.
Full of character and toughness, the Blue Devils have played flawless in the first month of the season. While some will argue that it’s detrimental to peak too soon, nobody can argue Duke’s body of work thus far and what it will mean down the stretch come tournament time. For now, Duke is riding sky high on one of their most impressive starts in school history while making a strong case as the best team in all of the land. And judging by the makeup of this particular team, the momentum on Duke’s side will be tough to slow from the opposition in the future.
By Chad Lykins
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