Blue Devils still are a work in progress
Duke’s transformation into what it hopes is a top-quality team without starting forward Ryan Kelly took a big step Saturday.
One game after being whipped 90-63 at Miami, the Blue Devils played one of their better games of the season in an 84-64 win over Maryland at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
No longer the nation’s No. 1 team, as the Blue Devils (17-2, 4-2) fell to No. 5 in the latest poll released on Monday, Duke seeks to string together wins that would vault it back up the ladder.
The next chance comes at Wake Forest on Wednesday night (8 p.m., WRAL). But replicating the Maryland performance, rather than regressing to what happened at Miami a few days earlier, comes with complications.
In addition to Kelly’s absence because of an injured right foot, fellow senior Seth Curry doesn’t practice more than once between games as he deals with a lingering right leg injury.
“We’ve practiced about 65 times, and he’s probably missed about 45 to 46 practices,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “When you are starting to put something new in, if he isn’t practicing, you won’t get the continuity that you would’ve. He’s one of our best players.”
Curry’s absence from practice time is a big reason why he’s thrived this season despite the discomfort. Curry averages 15.7 points per game and has made 42.9 percent of his 3-pointers.
But with him out of practice and Kelly sidelined, Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils have to be even more sharp in their offensive sets to play at anything close to their best. Kelly’s absence, doesn’t allow Duke to cover up as many warts.
“There could be some slippage that you wouldn’t know about, and we could still probably produce points, especially because the court is so spread and you have two of the better three‑point shooters on the court in Seth and Ryan,” Krzyzewski said. “And Rasheed (Sulaimon) can score, and Quinn (Cook) can hit open shots.”
Sulaimon, Cook, Curry and nearly everyone for Duke struggled to hit shots at Miami, when the Blue Devils shot a season-low 29.7 percent. That turned around against Maryland, as Duke was sharper in its offense and shot 52 percent.
“Now we have to have more attention to detail on setting your man up, setting screens, working together to get shots,” Krzyzewski said. “That was the best we’ve done thus far in doing that, even when we had Ryan, because we have to do it better. Hopefully, we’ll continue to build on that.”
Duke senior center Mason Plumlee, one of Duke’s captains along with Curry and Kelly, takes it upon himself to help the Blue Devils build on the Maryland win. He knows he has to be proactive, particularly when a performance like the Miami game happens.
“Just be hands on, talking to guys in practice and out of practice; make sure everybody’s on a same page.” Plumlee said. “You don’t want to split apart. It’s easy to have happen. Guys start to point fingers. Stuff comes out in the media about this guy.
“We’re in this together. You could tell (Saturday) that everybody was into the game.”
Duke has yet to win an ACC game away from Cameron Indoor Stadium this season and is 2-2 since Kelly was injured on Jan. 8.
But the win over Maryland gave them a better feeling to carry into this week’s games at Wake Forest and Florida State.
“It’s a period of adjustment,” Krzyzewski said. “You’d rather not go through it, but we’re going through it. We saw some progress on Saturday.”