Duke needed a big statement win against Maryland on Saturday to get their season back on track. They did that, and then some, with their 20-point victory at home. More importantly, the Blue Devils found a third offensive weapon to help fill the void left when Ryan Kelly went out with an injury four weeks ago. Rasheed Sulaimon was slumping until Coach Mike Krzyzewski decided to bench him against Georgia Tech. Since (and including) that game, the freshman wing guard has averaged 18.7 PPG. Kelly was averaging 13.4 on the season, so Sulaimon’s play of late has more than made up for Kelly’s production.
Sulaimon notched his career high (25 points) in Saturday’s game against the Terrapins. This also matched the Duke freshman scoring record held by a number of players including Austin Rivers last season. Duke needs this kind of production out of their small forward slot, where Sulaimon is playing somewhat out of position. Listed at 6’4″ on Duke’s official roster, he is often tasked with defending opponents’ best perimeter players when Tyler Thornton is not on the court. Sometimes he has to guard opposing small forwards as well.
Like all freshmen, he hit a wall earlier in the year adjusting to the speed and talent levels. But like he did earlier in the year when scoring 17 points in the second half against Ohio State, Sulaimon has responded to the challenges laid in front of him by Coach K. His benching against Clemson could’ve caused a negative response but has instead invigorated him. Look no further than early in the Maryland game, when Sulaimon’s mark Dez Wells got 3 early offensive rebounds to lead the Terrapins with 7 points early in the game. Coach K again challenged him, but it didn’t take much for Sulaimon to get the message.
“Rasheed [Sulaimon] played a great game. I didn’t think he started out well. When we took him out, we got on him. 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. He came in the game and he gave us a huge lift. That was a great performance especially after he started out that way.”