Mar. 20, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

Duke has played games where it displayed a more traditional player rotation and others where Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski has subbed five guys in as a group.

Postseason play, more specifically the NCAA Tournament, means things could change again, particularly with perimeter players.

Heading into No. 8 Duke’s NCAA Tournament game with Mercer on Friday (12:15 p.m., WRAL), Blue Devils senior guard Tyler Thornton knows how things can be during the season’s most important games “We are going to rotate guys,” Thornton said. But at this time of the year if you are playing well coach is going to keep you on the floor. If a guy is doing something really well that’s helping the team, coach is going to keep you on the floor because we don’t get another day.”

Duke learned the harshest lesson of all about being denied another chance to play when Thornton was a sophomore. In the 2012 NCAA Tournament, 15th-seeded Lehigh upset the No. 2-seeded Blue Devils 75-70 at Greensboro Coliseum.

Thornton started that night, contributing seven points, six assists and only two turnovers in 33 minutes before fouling out. But Duke had more turnovers (13) than assists (12) that night. Defensively, Duke struggled to contain Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum, who scored 30 points while making 10 of 11 free throws.

Lehigh turned the ball over just eight times.

It didn’t matter that Duke had the superior athletes — starters Austin Rivers, Miles Plumlee, Mason Plumlee all became NBA first-round draft picks — and a Hall of Fame coach. Lehigh beat Duke on the perimeter and won the game.

That game is just one example of how important perimeter play is when NCAA Tournament time arrives.

“The ball is in the guard’s hands,” said Duke associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski, a former Blue Devils point guard himself. “There are so many important decisions in all games. But it’s magnified in NCAA Tournament. Every possession is so important.

“A lot of times with big guys, those guys are finishers. The better your guard play the better chance you have to win.”

The game with Mercer figures to be Exhibit A in that debate. The Bears (26-8), who won the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament, start five seniors. Their best player is point guard Langston Hall, the conference player of the year who averages 14.7 points, 5.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

“Our guard play on both ends of the court will be hugely important,” Wojciechowski said.

Thornton has started the last 14 games for Duke and 52 games in his career. Krzyzewski has rotated sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon, redshirt senior Andre Dawkins, junior Quinn Cook and, a few times, freshman Matt Jones, through the lineup.

All, with the exception of Jones, has NCAA Tournament experience. Sulaimon started all four games during Duke’s run to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight last season.

As a freshman in 2010, Dawkins played in all six games as Duke won the NCAA championship.

As good as Hall was this season, the fact is the Bears are playing in their first NCAA Tournament since 1985.

So Duke clearly has an advantage in NCAA Tournament experience.

“We’ve been here,” Cook said. “Guys understand the urgency. Our backcourt play is going to be crucial in our run.”

The guards will be asked to run Duke’s team, stay in communication with the coaches on the bench and talk to their teammates on the court. That’s in addition to making good decisions with the ball and playing tight defense.

“At this point of the year, it’s really up to the guards to really control it and handle it,” Thornton said. “Being smart. Taking care of the ball. Not letting your guy drive to the basket and collapse the defense. It’s all of those things together. It’s when the really good guards really take it up a notch.”


Duke-Mercer Matchup

  Duke MU
Record 26-8 26-8
Avg. Pts. 78.6 79.3
Opp. Avg. Pts. 67.1 66.4
Margin 11.5 12.9
FG Pct. .463 .476
Opp. FG Pct. .453 .400
3-Pt. FG Pct. .394 .385
Opp. 3-Pt. FG Pct. .305 .298
3-Pt. FG-Game 8.9 8.1
Opp. 3-Pt. FG-Game 3.9 6.3
FT Pct. .726 .732
Rebound Margin 1.8 5.2
TO Diff. 2.8 0.8
Avg Steals 7.0 6.0
Avg Blocks 3.1 4.2


Duke Blue Devils Roster

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

  Pos Ht Wt Yr Hometown
1 Jabari Parker F 6-8 235 Fr Chicago
2 Quinn Cook G 6-2 180 Jr Washington
3 Tyler Thornton G 6-2 190 Sr Washington
5 Rodney Hood F 6-8 215 So Meridian, Miss.
13 Matt Jones G 6-4 200 Fr DeSoto, Texas
14 Rasheed Sulaimon G 6-4 190 So Houston
15 Josh Hairston F 6-8 235 Sr Fredericksburg, Va.
20 Semi Ojeleye F 6-7 230 Fr Ottawa, Kan.
21 Amile Jefferson F 6-9 210 So Philadelphia
34 Andre Dawkins G 6-5 215 Gr Chesapeake, Va.
40 Marshall Plumlee C 7-0 260 So Warsaw, Ind.
45 Nick Pagliuca G 6-3 175 Fr Weston, Mass.
52 Todd Zafirovski F 6-9 245 Gr Lake Forest, Ill.



Mercer Bears Roster

Coach: Bob Hoffman

  Pos Ht Wt Yr Hometown
1 Phillip Leonard G 6-2 200 So Tulsa, Okla.
3 Kevin Canevari G 5-11 165 Sr Charlotte, N.C.
5 Bud Thomas F 6-6 200 Sr Highlands Ranch, Colo. .
10 Ike Nwamu G 6-5 205 So Greensboro, N.C.
12 John Mosser G 6-4 210 Fr Cary, N.C.
14 T.J. Hallice F 6-9 205 Jr Weddington, N.C.
15 Anthony White Jr. G 6-2 170 Sr Indianapolis
20 Jakob Gollon F 6-6 200 Sr Stevens Point Wis. .
21 Langston Hall G 6-4 180 Sr Atlanta
22 Darious Moten F 6-6 195 Jr Bowdon, Ga.
32 James Bento F 6-6 195 Fr Houston
34 Jibri Bryan G 6-3 180 So Savannah, Ga.
45 Monty Brown C 6-11 250 Sr Liberty Mounds Okla. .
52 Daniel Coursey F 6-10 220 Sr Savannah, Ga.



Duke vs. Mercer

NCAA Tournament Second Round

Raleigh, N.C. • PNC Arena (19,772)

March 21, 2014 • 12:15 p.m.

CBS • Blue Devil IMG Sports Network • Westwood One


The Opening Tip

• Duke received the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region and will open its 19th consecutive NCAA Tournament with a second-round matchup against 14th-seeded Mercer Friday at 12:15 p.m. at PNC Arena.

• In NCAA Tournament play, Duke is 99-33 all-time with four national championships, 15 Final Four appearances and 10 NCAA Championship game appearances.

• Head coach Mike Krzyzewski is 82-25 (.766) in the NCAA Tournament and is the winningest coach in NCAA Tournament history. Duke leads all Division I programs with a .750 winning percentage in the NCAA Tournament.

• Duke is ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press poll and No. 6 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. The Blue Devils are 76-17 all-time when playing as the No. 8 team in the AP poll.

• The Blue Devils are 2-0 when playing NCAA Tournament games in PNC Arena.


The Last Time Out

• Jabari Parker scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, but top-seeded Virginia pulled away late to defeat third-seeded Duke, 72-63, in the ACC Championship game Sunday at Greensboro Coliseum.

•  Virginia attempted 38 free throws while Duke attempted just 11. The -27 margin was the largest against Duke in the Coach K era, topping the 14-40 (-26) margin Colorado had against the Blue Devils on Dec. 2, 1982.

• Rodney Hood and Amile Jefferson both scored in double figures with 13 and 11 points.

• Parker earned ACC All-Tournament first team honors, while Hood and Jefferson were named to the second team.

• Duke turned the ball over just six times, thanks in part to the play of Quinn Cook, who dished out six assists without a giveaway in 30 minutes of play. For the tournament, Cook posted an 11:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.


By The Numbers

• Duke is 7-5 against the 2014 NCAA Tournament field, including 4-4 against six teams that received either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Duke is 3-0 against teams in the Midwest Region with two wins over NC State and one over Michigan.

• Duke is the winningest program in NCAA Tournament history in terms of winning percentage, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski is the NCAA Division I leader in NCAA Tournament victories. Duke is 99-33 (.750) all-time in tournament play, while Coach K is 82-25 as Duke’s head coach.

• The Blue Devils are 32-5 all-time when playing NCAA Tournament games in the state of North Carolina. The 37 games played in North Carolina are the most by Duke in any state, leading Indiana (8-2) and New Jersey (10-0) with 10 games each.

• Duke has lost back-to-back games just once since the start of the 2009-10 season and is 26-1 following a loss during that span.

• When coming off an appearance in the ACC Championship game, Duke has advanced to at least the NCAA Sweet 16 in 17 consecutive seasons. Duke has advanced to the Elite Eight in 10 of those years, to the Final Four six times and to the national championship six times.

• Duke has played 10 games against teams finishing the season ranked in the top 25 of the RPI. The Blue Devils went 5-5 in those contests with wins over Virginia, Syracuse, North Carolina, Michigan and UCLA.

• Jabari Parker has scored a team-leading and Duke freshman-record 656 points this season and is just the sixth ACC freshman to reach the 600-point plateau. Parker ranks third on the ACC freshman list for total points and is 24 shy of tpassing Georgia Tech’s Stephon Marbury for second on the list.

• Rodney Hood is approaching the 600-point plateau in his first season at Duke, as well. With 556 points this season, Hood needs 44 more to join Parker as the 11th Duke duo under Coach K to both reach 600 points in the same season.

• Duke has recorded double-digit offensive rebounds in 16 of the past 17 games and is averaging 14.2 offensive rebounds per game during that span. Duke is averaging 16.6 second-chance points per game during that stretch, compared to 9.7 points per game in 17 games prior.

• Jabari Parker has scored in double figures in 17 straight games and 32 times overall this season, breaking the Duke freshman record for double-figure scoring games held by Gene Banks (1978) and Luol Deng (2004).