DURHAM After logging a career-high in minutes and blocks and collecting at least five rebounds for just the third time in his career, Marshall Plumlee was asked if the Syracuse game, specifically the first half, was his finest collegiate moment to date.
“I don’t know, I guess that’s up for viewer’s discretion,” he said. “I’m proud of it.”
As well he should be, as Plumlee has gone from the end of the bench to meaningful contributor for the No. 6 Blue Devils (22-6, 11-4 ACC), who will face last-place Virginia Tech (9-17, 2-12) Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Plumlee recorded all of his stats in the first half, when he played 15 minutes. Leg cramps limited him to four second-half minutes, prompting coach Mike Krzyzewski to remark that he needs to get used to playing more minutes.
Playing time hasn’t been easy to come by for Plumlee, who redshirted his first year on campus and then suffered a stress fracture in his left foot days before practice began his redshirt year.
His foot issues lingered through last season, when he was limited to 50 minutes, total, for the season.
Before the Blue Devils’ loss at Clemson caused Krzyzewski to start using a deeper bench, Plumlee was averaging 5.8 minutes per game. He didn’t play at all against East Carolina, Vermont, Alabama or Clemson.
It’s clear that the more time he spends on the court, the more comfortable he grows. In the first game against Syracuse, on Feb. 1 in the Carrier Dome, Plumlee frequently had a deer-in-headlights look and was limited to 10 minutes despite foul trouble for all of Duke’s other front-court players.
In the more recent game against the Orange, he moved much more assertively, calling out shots on defense and scoring four points with finishes around the rim.
As the third of the three Plumlee brothers to play at Duke, it’s natural to try to compare him to his older brothers, Miles and Mason, both of whom have found success this season in the NBA.
Don’t, Krzyzewski said.
“He’s a different player than his brothers,” Krzyzewski said of Marshall. “He’s a center. Mason and Miles played both positions, but Marshall wants to be a center, a protector of the basket. He wants to be a center, and that’s what he is. He’s athletic, though – all three Plumlee brothers are excellent athletes. It’s taken Marshall some time to get back to that athleticism.
“We feel that he’s running and being the athlete he was before, about 17 months ago, right before he was injured at the start of last season. He is a good player, and he’s going to be a really good player.
“The recovery from not playing and injuries, some kids never recover and get to the level that they should be at. Marshall has worked real hard, and he’s getting there. He’ll have more and more of a prominent role on our team now that he’s reached that level.”
Last year, Plumlee’s high school coach, David Gaines, described the brothers like this: Miles is the most athletic. Mason is the best all-around player with the best basketball sense. Marshall doesn’t have their natural talent but is the most positive one and worked to make himself a McDonald’s All-American.
He brought that work ethic to Duke. Assistant coach Nate James has had to kick him out of the gym after practice because he wouldn’t leave on his own, as he was fine-tuning his post moves.
Plumlee has also learned to keep his focus on the court.
“Just defend, protect the rim and rebound,” he said. “If I just focus on those things, it clears my mind, and everything else falls into place.”
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley
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