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No. 1 Duke 76, Elon 54

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Blue Devils coast past Phoenix

DURHAM As expected, Duke beat Elon 76-54. After the game, though, coach Mike Krzyzewski reflected more on the season in total, one that has seen Duke rise to the No. 1 ranking and win 11 straight, than on this individual result.

“We’ve got a really good basketball team,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s what I told our guys. Tonight is about looking at the last 11 games, not looking at one game. And our we proud of that? We’re very proud of that.”

No. 1 Duke (11-0) took a while to find its rhythm offensively, but after Ryan Kelly hit a 3-pointer to break a 25-25 tie with 3 minutes, 21 seconds left in the first half, the Blue Devils went on a 33-10 run that ended the competitive portion of the contest with the Phoenix (6-5).

The game against Elon was Duke’s second in as many nights, and Krzyzewski thought his team looked tired. He didn’t fault them for it, though, taking into consideration the schedule Duke has played, which included wins over three top-five teams in November.

“I thought our team played mentally tired. You could see it in our faces,” he said. “It’s been a heck of a first part of the season with exams, two games in a row, and we need a break.”

Despite the scheduling challenges, one constant has been Duke’s defense, and that carried the team again against Elon. The Blue Devils forced the Phoenix to record more turnovers (17) than assists (10). The fact that Elon recorded so few assists, Krzyzewski said, was due to Duke not giving up easy baskets.

Against the Phoenix, Duke’s defense showed a marked improvement in the one area that has been weak all season: defensive rebounding. In total, the Blue Devils pulled down 28 defensive boards and only allowed five offensive rebounds. Mason Plumlee led the way with 15 total rebounds – seven on the defensive end – and he scored 21 points for his seventh double-double of the season.

“For us to be good, I have to be good,” Plumlee said, noting that there is still room for improvement in his game. “Those things go hand-in-hand.”

Tied with Plumlee for the lead on the defensive glass was Quinn Cook, who also pulled down seven rebounds (one offensive rebound gave him eight total). Krzyzewski told his guards that they need to be more aggressive on the defensive glass and used Jason Kidd as an example. Cook said he has also solicited advice from Tyler Thornton, who had a pair of rebounds as well. Thornton’s advice to Cook: have a nose for the ball.

“We rely on Mason too much to grab all the rebounds,” Cook said. “I just wanted to get in there and snag some loose balls.”

When Cook or Thornton or Rasheed Sulaimon grabs a rebound, it allows Duke to start its offense quicker and push the tempo. Plumlee, though, is fine with any help he can get on the glass. Currently, he is the only one averaging more than five rebounds per game, a stat that will hold the team as the season progresses.

Or, as Cook put it: “Without rebounding, we can’t be special. The guards just have to keep getting better.”

In the more immediate future, Krzyzewski said the most important thing his team needs to do is take a break and enjoy the holidays with their families. The Blue Devils will be off from now until Dec. 26 when they will resume practice before a Dec. 29 game against Santa Clara.

“The main thing we can do better is get refreshed,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s just a long year. When you are ranked as high as we’re ranked now, then there’s even more, there’s more. Our guys have handled things just great. I’m proud of them, I love them.”

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