Plumlee remains ‘first option’ for Duke
Mason Plumlee offered a reminder earlier this week who No. 5 Duke counts on this season.
With the Blue Devils looking for their first road win while seeking consistency without injured senior forward Ryan Kelly, Plumlee turned in the best scoring night of his Duke career. Those 32 points allowed Duke to win at Wake Forest 75-70.
Duke plays at Florida State today (2 p.m., ESPN) armed with a red-hot 6-10 senior center firmly in place as his team’s trusted scoring option.
“On every play, we have different options,” Duke sophomore point guard Quinn Cook said. “Mason is the first option on every play.”
Plumlee is averaging a double-double this season with 18.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, but he had not led Duke in scoring in an ACC game this season until Wednesday night in Winston-Salem.
His fellow senior frontcourt mate, Kelly, remains out with a right foot injury that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski believes will allow him to return later this season. Without Kelly since he was hurt on Jan. 8, Duke (18-2, 4-2) didn’t look like the ACC’s best team as it lost at N.C State and Miami.
Plumlee showed strength in the lane during Duke’s past two games. He had 19 points in last Saturday’s 84-64 win over Maryland before he made 12 of 15 shots in his 32-point game at Wake Forest.
After the game at Joel Coliseum, Krzyzewski offered a not-so-gentle reminder of what Plumlee means to the Blue Devils.
“Mason’s put in a lot of work in,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t know if he’s the best player in the league, but there’s no player who’s more important to his team. I think he might be the best player, but there’s not one who’s more important. We can’t, I mean there is no substitution for him. So those kinds of guys need to get the ball.”
Krzyzewski told his team just that in the pregame locker room at Wake Forest. The senior heard the words he wanted to hear.
“Before the game, Coach said, ‘Give Mason the ball,’” Plumlee said. “I was expecting it to come my way. I was lathered up. Those are my favorite words.”
He went out and scored 19 points in the first half. Despite picking up two first-half fouls, he only sat out three minutes before intermission.
As Krzyzewski said, there is no substitute.
He played 19 minutes after halftime. Despite having four fouls, he still was around with 1:14 to play when his final basket helped extend Duke’s lead to the point where Wake Forest couldn’t catch up.
“Guys got me the ball in good spots,” Plumlee said.
Ever the perfectionist when it comes to his own play, Plumlee didn’t like how he had to play more passively on defense because of his concern about fouling out.
“I felt like a sissy sometimes,” Plumlee said. “Coaches would like me to play better defense with foul trouble. I probably shouldn’t have been that soft out there. But I just wanted to stay out on the floor.”
His head coach, the taskmaster one would expect from a former Army captain, had few complaints.
“He’s developed a discipline to do that,” Krzyzewski said. “Mason played a great game, and being able to not get his fifth foul and be smart enough in those situations, was really huge. Discipline is a real, real good thing. And he had it.”