Section 17: Ringing the Bell(armine) on a New Year

Walking into Cameron Indoor Stadium last night, you might have mistaken it for a regular season game. The arena was packed to the brim, a chill in the air gave the evening a wintery feel, and the excitement was palpable. Then the game and the harsh reality sets in—this was an exhibition, and at times Duke looked a bit more like a Division II team than their opponents did.

Seth Curry drives baseline against Bellarmine (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Now let’s keep this all in perspective. Although there were many negatives to dwell on, Duke overcame a rocky start to cruise to an 87-62 victory over defending Division II national champion Bellarmine Saturday night.

The game hadn’t even started yet before the Cameron faithful had their first shock of the season, as freshman Alex Murphy was announced as a starter over experienced junior Andre Dawkins. Murphy had been highly acclaimed by head coach Mike Krzyzewski throughout their first weeks of practice for his defensive abilities, but he contributed essentially nothing on the offensive end.  Zero points, one rebound, one assist, and two steals in 13 minutes of action. Those don’t sound like starter numbers. Meanwhile, Ryan Kelly, the team’s greatest offensive weapon from their summer tour overseas, came off the bench scoring ten points.

The offense started out slow and out of sorts, while Bellarmine shot 39% from 3-point range in the first half. Duke shot terribly from beyond the arc, converting on just 14% of three point attempts for the game, going without a three for the game’s first thirty minutes. For a team that in the past has lived and died on 3-point shooting, this is a terrifying statistic. Duke also struggled to maintain possession, turning over the ball 19 times over the course of the game, including 12 in the first half. Keep in mind that Duke only had 19 turnovers in a game three times last year. Granted, they won all three of those games, but you get the point. This lackadaisical effort combined with mediocre perimeter defense led to many open transition jumpers for the Knights. When shots were raining down near the end of the first half, for just a split second fans had a legitimate reason to question whether or not Duke would win this game at all, let alone do so comfortably.

The Blue Devils were able to correct many of these issues in the second half to an extent, shooting 64% from the field to pull away to a 25-point victory. Seth Curry led Duke with 18 points on 7 for 17 shooting while freshman Austin Rivers added 13 points.

Mason Plumlee dunks against Bellarmine (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Mason Plumlee played a very impressive game for the Blue Devils, shooting a perfect 8-8 from the field for 16 points, and adding 9 rebounds on the game. Following a poor showing at Countdown to Craziness where the athletic Plumlee appeared to be in great shape but played out of control, Mason looked as though he found the perfect balance against Bellarmine. Older brother Miles Plumlee added 14 points and 8 boards, but was exploited defensively on a few occasions. Whether or not all of their options play consistently, Duke will always have at least one option on the low block this coming season.

A huge question entering the year was who would run the point with Duke’s starting lineup. While both Seth Curry and Austin Rivers split time taking up the ball, as expected, the biggest surprise of the evening came from Duke’s true point guards, Tyler Thornton and Quinn Cook. Thornton provided five points and three assists in 24 minutes while exhibiting his usual lockdown defense, and he was crucial in controlling the flow and tempo of the offense. Thornton, who drained one of Duke’s two three pointers with less than nine minutes remaining in the second half, garnered great praise from Krzyzewski in his postgame press conference. Meanwhile, Cook provided us with the most impressive performance of the game, scoring four points while adding two rebounds and five assists in just seven minutes of action. From the second he stepped on the floor, Cook was absolutely electric. He was quick off the dribble, feeding his teammates for easy buckets and navigating the lane like he had played quite a few games in Cameron before this one.

Though he saw moderate playing time, Andre Dawkins was strangely absent from this game. Dawkins did not receive the start as Krzyzewski opted for freshman Alex Murphy. Meanwhile in Dawkins’ 15 minutes he only shot 1 for 6 from the floor, a worrying performance following a 3 for 10 shooting night at Countdown to Craziness. Dawkins was expected to start as Duke’s third guard along with Curry and Rivers, but he has not played like a starter. This should open the door for freshman Michael Gbinije, who showed some flashes of brilliance in limited action.

Marshall Plumlee was strangely absent from this game—in fact he never even took his warm-up off. In an exhibition situation such as this, many would have thought that Marshall would see some playing time to get adjusted to the speed and physicality of the college game against a weaker opponent. However, he remained on the bench, raising questions of his future in the Blue Devils’ rotation.

All in all, it was a performance that was to be expected of Duke’s first exhibition game of the year. There were definite signs of rust in execution on both ends of the floor, but there were many distinct positives that provide hope for the future. Coach Krzyzewski tested out a variety of lineups and offensive sets, and although the game was at many times ugly, Duke remained firmly in control. Now everybody’s got their feet wet in this 2011-12 season, and it’s time to iron out the kinks.

Crazie Notes: Although the Duke crowd brought the noise like any Duke crowd would, the student section was a bit subdued as it was occupied by many parents for Duke’s parents weekend…Duke honored the parents of its basketball players with a ceremony at halftime, with NBA coach Doc Rivers and former NBA player Dell Curry in attendance…Duke hosted Lithonia, Georgia center Tony Parker for his official visit…Parker sat near former Duke players Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith…Parker was hosted by freshman guard Quinn Cook for his visit to campus…the crowd chanted for Parker to commit to Duke multiple times throughout the game, but Parker was generally unresponsive…UCLA and Ohio State remain among the top teams to land Parker, who intends to commit during the first signing period beginning November 6…it was an exhibition for all, and Coach K used it as an opportunity to practice winning over officials, giving them quite an earful following a charge call on Seth Curry in the second half.