Duke opened the Maui Classic against a tough and tenacious Tennessee team eager to make a name for themselves, and although they came up a bit short they played Duke tough. Duke was never able to truly get separation from UT until the second half but you got the sense that a run was coming for Vols but it never seemed to fully materialize, at one point in the second half they did manage to tie the score but you never got the sense Duke was in any real danger. What Duke did do on the defensive end was to not allow the Vols any 3 point makes, it was an 0 for 8 performance by UT and that was probably more than anything the difference in the game as UT held a slight edge on the boards and also free throw shooting. UT even had 1 less turnover than Duke, but Duke went 7 for 18 from beyond the arc and more than any one stat tells the tale.
Another reason Duke was able to eventually put some distance between themselves and the Vols was the play of Austin Rivers. Rivers did not shoot a great percentage he did however force the issue, driving hard to the basket, more often than not when Rivers is aggressive but controlled good things happen, and it happened to the tune of 18 points. His two 3 pointersÂ spurred on the run that eventually gave Duke some breathing room, also helping fuel that run was the defense played by Tyler Thornton. It won’t show in the stat line but it’s plain to see that when Thornton enters the game the intensity level on defense picks up significantly. Duke would need that as the Vols in the early going of the first half was getting any and every shot they wanted in the paint.
It was also a big offensive night for Ryan Kelly who also was aggressive and showcased an array of offensive skills on hooks, drives, 3’s and mid-range jumpers. Kelly finessed with 17 points as did Seth Curry who is cementing himself as the teams leader. He quietly went 5 for 10 with 4 assists and is definitely the best ball handler at this state of the year for Duke. Curry seems to not have any problems being a scorer and an offensive facilitator, the key being able to see a step ahead as to whether to distribute and run the offense or look for his own shot. Seth seems to be able to make that determination on the fly with no part of his game really suffering.
Mason Plumlee did not have a huge offensive not but still managed 8 points but more importantly 13 rebounds. When he was aggressive on offense it was a thing of beauty, breaking down his man off the dribble and weaving in forÂ hooks and layups. The game seems to be slowing down for Mase, he seems to be in a confident place and most importantly he is talking on both sides of the floor.
One thing you can say about this years scheduling so far is that Duke is benefiting from the toughness of these games, they are playing teams that are giving Duke different looks and this team is learning, and when the defense catches up to what we know they can do offensively then Duke could be dangerous.