DURHAM There were many takeaways from Duke’s 69-64 win Monday against Virginia, and Rasheed Sulaimon pointed out one on Friday that some may have missed.
“The offense that we put in, we shared the ball a lot better that game,” said Sulaimon, referring to Duke’s motion offense, a departure from the set plays the Blue Devils had relied on in past games.
No. 23 Duke (13-4, 2-2 ACC) will get a chance to fine-tune its offense against N.C. State (11-6, 1-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Cameron. Neither team has played sharp defense thus far – expect plenty of points.
Back to Sulaimon’s point, the Blue Devils have recorded 12 assists in each of their past three games, victories against Virginia and Georgia Tech and the loss at Clemson (in Duke’s first ACC game at Notre Dame, the Blue Devils recorded eight assists in the loss). The Virginia game was different, though. Quinn Cook leads the ACC with an average of 5.9 assists per game. Against the Cavaliers, he recorded two.
Cook was one of four players to record two assists, along with Rodney Hood, Amile Jefferson and Sulaimon (each played at least 24 minutes and no more than 29). Four other players – Jabari Parker, Tyler Thornton, Semi Ojeleye and Andre Dawkins – turned in a single dime as well. And that’s how the Blue Devils got to 12.
Cook logged seven against Clemson and five against Georgia Tech. So Sulaimon was right: As a team, the Blue Devils did share the ball much better Monday night than they had in previous efforts.
Also better Monday night was what Duke calls its fight – effort wasn’t an issue, as it had been in past games.
“When we beat Georgia Tech, I thought we relaxed,” Cook said. “We went up to Clemson and took a game off. No disrespect to them, they beat us, they wanted it more that day, but we weren’t there. We’ve got to just keep pushing, keep pushing and keep getting better.
“Were tired of Coach yelling at us about energy and fighting. Coaches should be coaching just basketball, I don’t think they should be coaching attitude and fight. I think everybody’s attitude is great, I think Monday was a big step, and we’ve got a big one tomorrow.”
The only way Monday’s game against Virginia – which was a must-win for Duke, Sulaimon said – could have been better is if the Blue Devils would have stayed strong down the stretch, instead of allowing the Cavaliers the 13-1 run that enabled them to take the lead in the final minute of the game. The Blue Devils were able to come back – the first time they’ve done that in the second half of a league game – but Cook dismissed the notion the tight win was somehow more beneficial.
“I would rather play well and win by 15,” Cook said. “That would help us more.”
But a win is a win, he added, and at .500 in the conference, Duke needs all the wins it can get. The Blue Devils have the right opponent coming into Cameron – the Wolfpack hasn’t beaten a Mike Krzyzewski-coached Duke team in Cameron since Feb. 6, 1988 (the losses Pete Gaudet collected in 1995 are applied against his record, not Krzyzewski’s, per an NCAA ruling).
“We just have to get a win,” Sulaimon said. (He did say, “Wow,” when told of the streak.) “We’re 2-2 in the conference, and that’s mediocre. We’re a program that’s not built on mediocrity.”
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley
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