No. 9 Duke beats No. 3 Kentucky 75-68
Submitted by laura_keeley on 11/13/2012 - 22:38
Duke's Mason Plumlee, along with fellow seniors Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry, carried the Blue Devils to a 75-68 win over Kentucky. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY
ATLANTA—Normally, a team playing without its best player against the No. 3 team in the country would be a disaster.
For Duke, though, a six-minute stretch without Mason Plumlee proved to be crucial, as the Blue Devils built a lead that would last the rest of the way. No. 9 Duke knocked off No. 3 Kentucky, 75-68. It was the Blue Devils first win over a nonconference opponent ranked in the top three since 2005.
“It’s a huge step, and not just because we won, but the way we won," Ryan Kelly said. "We felt like for 40 minutes, we really played our defense, Duke defense. Obviously this was a team, No. 3 in the country, they’re high-level, high-talent, and they’re going to be in the mix in at the end of the year. This early, it’s a huge win for us.”
Kentucky didn’t fold, though, rattling off a 9-0 run to cut Duke’s lead to just three points at 64-61 with 2:04 remaining in the game. Seth Curry scored six points in the final minutes, and Kentucky couldn’t close the gap.
“Seth was our closure tonight,” Plumlee said.
The scouting report for Duke’s big men was to put pressure on the ball when the Kentucky bigs had it in their hands. Plumlee took a bit too far when he drew his fourth foul while guarding Nerlens Noel at the top of the key with 16:04 remaining in the game.
Plumlee's absence wasn’t addition by subtraction, though. Far from it. The senior captain carried Duke while he was in, especially in the first half, when he scored 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting and a perfect 4-for-4 clip from the free-throw line. He finished with 18 points total. Curry led Duke with 23.
Josh Hairston, a seldom-used reserve in his first two seasons, played the six minutes Plumlee was on the bench. He scored two baskets off of offensive rebounds. Defensively, though, he struggled to match up with Noel, but Hairston was effective enough to prevent him from dominating.
“I just wanted to go in and be physical,” Hairston said. “When I got in there, coach just told me to be physical with them, try and push them off the block and try to make them work for everything."
It became apparent early in the game why Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had preached the importance of his three seniors. Plumlee, Kelly and Curry carried Duke in the first half as the Blue Devils went into the break with a 33-31 lead. Plumlee scored 14 points while Curry had nine points on 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range. Kelly added five points, three blocks and two steals. Combined, the trio scored all but five of Duke’s first-half points.
Calipari said Monday that if Duke consistently hit 3s, his team would lose. Sulaimon hit three key 3-pointers in the second half, which helped build Duke’s lead. As a team, the Blue Devils shot 8-of-18—44.4 percent—for the game. Many came as a result of out passes from Plumlee after the defense collapsed on him.
"The last couple of times I got it down there, they really converged, but that left our shooters open," Plumlee said. A couple of times, we knocked down some big 3s."
And with that, Calipari's prediction came true.