Thornton sparks defense as backcourt mate Curry spices offense
Duke sharpshooter Seth Curry rose up from the behind the arc, only to see his 3-point attempt come down well short of the rim.
“He doesn’t shoot airballs,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski yelled to the refs as Curry pointed to his elbow, indicating where he thought he was hit.
No call was coming. As expected, Duke and Michigan State played a physical, defensive game Friday night in the Midwest Regional semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium, where points wouldn’t come easy.
In other words, it was a perfect setting for Blue Devils point guard Tyler Thornton.
The junior took just one shot, but his defense and intensity helped lead the Blue Devils, who defeated the Spartans 71-61 and advanced to the Elite Eight for only the second time since 2004.
“Thornton played a great game,” Krzyzewski said. “His toughness, defense, and he handled our team really well.”
Michigan State scored on four of its five possessions when Thornton first entered the game, and it took just one minute for him to set a new tone.
With Derrick Nix — who is eight inches taller and 80 pounds heavier — coming down the court on a fast break, Thornton fouled the Michigan State forward hard across the neck, getting a flagrant foul but preventing the easy lay-up.
In a game that had 28 fouls and 35 free throws in the second half alone, Thornton’s tough play was needed.
“They’re very physical,” Thornton said. “They’re bigger than us at every position pretty much and a little bit more athletic, but I think the guys did a good job of playing with heart and fighting those guys.”
The junior continued pestering the Spartans backcourt in the second half, getting two of Duke’s three steals. Guard Gary Harris, the Big Ten freshman of the year who was coming off a career-high 23 points in the Round of 32 against Memphis, shot 2 of 11. All-Big Ten second-team guard Keith Appling had four turnovers and no assists.
“Whenever I come in the game I’m trying to make plays, doing dirty work things,” Thornton said. “There was a lot of that tonight, and I was able to make those little plays.”
Thornton’s presence was even more important considering the struggles of Duke starting point guard Quinn Cook, who was held scoreless for the first time this season and had just his fifth game with more turnovers (three) than assists (two).
Cook wasn’t the only player who couldn’t make a jump shot against Michigan State, which held Memphis to a season-low 48 points.
Duke forward Ryan Kelly missed all three of his attempts from behind the arc and has now gone five games without a 3-pointer, while Rasheed Sulaimon made clutch free throws down the stretch but was shut down in the half-court offense.
Thornton’s defense helped make sure it wouldn’t matter.
“We beat an outstanding team today. It took a heck of an effort,” Krzyzewski said. “Possessions were very difficult tonight for both teams.”
|DUKE 71, MICHIGAN ST. 61|
Percentages: FG .400, FT .750.
3-Point Goals: 3-12, .250 (Trice 1-1, Appling 1-2, Payne 1-5, Valentine 0-1, Harris 0-3).
Team Rebounds: 0.
Blocked Shots: 4 (Payne 2, Dawson, Appling).
Turnovers: 11 (Appling 4, Valentine 2, Payne, Costello, Harris, Nix).
Steals: 6 (Nix, Payne, Valentine, Dawson, Harris, Appling).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .408, FT .923.
3-Point Goals: 7-18, .389 (Curry 6-9, Thornton 1-1, Sulaimon 0-2, Cook 0-2, Kelly 0-4).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 5 (Kelly 4, Mas. Plumlee).
Turnovers: 8 (Cook 3, Kelly, Thornton, Curry, Mas. Plumlee).
Steals: 3 (Thornton 2, Mas. Plumlee).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials—Pat Driscoll, Mike Stuart, Mike Scyphers.