After wins over Belmont and Presbyterian moved Mike Krzyzewski into a tie with Bob Knight for the most wins in college basketball history, many at Madison Square Garden were hoping that the Duke head coach would become the record-holder with a win over Michigan State on Tuesday night. But while some went as far as to almost assume the game to be a coronation of sorts, Tom Izzo's Spartans refused to back down. Michigan State, never a team to back down from a challenge, went toe to toe with Duke in the first half, outscoring the Blue Devils in the paint 16-4 and scoing 15 points off of eight Duke turnovers.
But the first half was ultimately about missed opportunities for Michigan State, who despite those numbers went into the locker room trailing 34-33. Why? Two big reasons: eleven turnovers, and a combined 23 points scored by Duke guards Andre Dawkins (14) and Seth Curry (9). And in hindsight all Michigan State did was delay the inevitable, as Dawkins, Curry and Ryan Kelly kept it going in the second half and helping push the Duke lead out to as high as 20 points with just over nine minutes left in the game. Michigan State refused to fold but it was too little too late in Duke's 74-69 win.
"I thought we were, I don't know, tight or tentative the whole first half," said Krzyzewski of his team's play. "I don't know if the moment was so big or we tried to downplay the moment but then obviously, you all being here, and it's in the Garden and it becomes a big thing."
Michigan State attempted 20 more field goals than Duke on the night, but the Blue Devils more than made up for that at the charity stripe as well as beyond the arc. Duke made 30 of 41 free throws while Michigan State was just 13 of 18, with the Spartans committing eight more fouls (29-21). Duke also outscored Michigan State 30-12 from three, and when the Blue Devils are able to reach such an edge it's nearly impossible to beat them.
Keith Appling bounced back from his performance against North Carolina to lead the way with 22 points and Brandon Wood added 15, but an off night from senior Draymond Green was a major factor as well. Green made just four of fifteen shots from the field, finishing with 10 points, seven rebounds and five turnovers. Kelly defensively was a big key for Duke in controlling Green, a happening that you'd be hard-pressed to expect from the junior in either of his prior two seasons in Durham.
"I thought Ryan Kelly did a good job on Green," remarked Krzyzewski. "I think Green is a heck of a player and went 4-15 and had four turnovers and two assists. I thought Ryan was really good in that second half."
Michigan State dominated the glass on Friday in their loss to North Carolina, but they could do no more than out-rebound Duke by one (32-31) on this night. Dawkins was superb for Duke, finishing with a game-high 26 points while Curry added 20 and Kelly 14, and this trio combined to score 16 points in a 17-4 Duke run early in the second half to take control of the game. The Plumlee brothers may have been quiet and Austin Rivers may have made just one of seven shots, but the veteran trio more than made up for those struggles.
The days in leading up to Duke's next game (Davidson) will likely be spent talking about what this record means and what Krzyzewski means to the sport, and there should be little doubt that a "Mount Rushmore" for college basketball would include the West Point grad along with his college coach. But just as important, if not moreso, is the play of Dawkins and Curry on such a stage.
For all the talk about the newcomers in the backcourt, it's pretty obvious that the experienced members will be just as important (if not more) as the Blue Devils embark on life without Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. Tuesday night provided an impressive message as to their willingness to be the players Duke looks to for big plays. As for Michigan State, they'll grow from this and be a good basketball team as the season wears on. Appling isn't a true point guard right now and freshman Travis Trice is still learning the ropes. These two games offer great lessons to Izzo's team, and they'll be that much better for it.
"We are going to grow from these two games," said Izzo. "A lot people think we are insane but, we are going to get better from it. We played two very good teams and we are competing more and more. Everybody playing together, I think we are going to get better as a team."
Other Notable Happenings
1. UCLA hit a new low in an 86-66 pasting suffered at the hands of Middle Tennessee.
Well, using the logic that since Middle Tennessee beat a Loyola Marymount team that beat UCLA it wasn't a stretch to expect the Blue Raiders to give the Bruins a good run at the L.A. Sports Arena. Well Kermit Davis' team didn't just give UCLA a run for their money...they ran them out of the arena. Middle Tennessee shredded the UCLA defense with an array of backdoor cuts and drive and kicks for open threes while also thoroughly confusing the Bruins by using multiple defenses on their way to an emphatic 20-point win. Middle Tennessee shot a staggering 71% from the field and 91% from three (making their first nine before finally missing one late) with LaRon Dendy leading five players in double figures with 16 points (and 13 rebounds). If Middle Tennessee can build on this performance keep an eye on them in the Sun Belt.
As for UCLA, where do you start? Defense has been one of the core principles for Ben Howland's program during his time in Westwood, but it was nowhere to be found on Tuesday. Frankly UCLA looked to be unprepared to deal with what Middle Tennessee was throwing at them, and they were getting out-hustled to boot. Of course not having Reeves Nelson (suspension) or Anthony Stover (injury) didn't help matters, but that's no excuse for this kind of loss. And for a team that according to some has the best frontcourt in the Pac-12, why would the Bruins shoot 20 three-pointers (making four)? Joshua Smith led the way with 15 points and nine rebounds, but the fact that UCLA has attempted 35 three-pointers in two games (making six) is exactly why they're 0-2. There's no sugar-coating this: UCLA had better figure things out in a hurry with the Maui Invitational on the horizon.
2. Kentucky uses a strong second half to beat Kansas, and they're only going to get better.
Just like Michigan State in the first game of the Champions Classic, Kansas had every opportunity to go into the locker room with a nice advantage on a team that played a poor first half. And just like the Spartans the Jayhawks allowed that opportunity to slip away, tied at 28 with Kentucky at the break. And sure enough John Calipari's young, talented squad made Kansas pay in the second half, going on an 11-0 run and pushing their lead up to as many as 17 points by the 10-minute mark. Kansas would fight back but they didn't have enough horses as Kentucky put the finishing touches on 75-65 win. Doron Lamb led five Wildcats in double figures with 17 points but the talk of the night (especially in the second half) was freshman Anthony Davis, who finished wih 14 points, seven blocks and six rebounds.
The Chicago native's wingspan and skill set are impressive enough to take over games, and he was part of the defensive effort that made things very tough on Kansas forward Thomas Robinson. Robinson rarely got a chance to go one on one in the post, posting a double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) but making five of twelve shots. Kentucky had its moment of lackadaisical play, turning the ball over 19 times (Marquis Teague had six and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist five), but when they needed to turn it on in the second half they did. Just imagine this young group consistently playing at a high level. That's a scary thought for much of their remaining schedule.
3. Ohio State beats Florida in Columbus, but that doesn't mean that Florida can't take positives out of the game.
Ohio State was able to rebound from Florida scoring eight of the first ten points of the game behind 21 points from William Buford, beating the Gators 81-74 in front of a packed house at Value City Arena. Ohio State led by as many as 16 points in the second half, but Florida fought back and eventually cut the deficit to five in the final minute as they refused to give in. There are other positives that Billy Donovan's team can take out of the defeat as well, beginning with the play of sophomore forward Patric Young. Young scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, leading the Gators to a 38-29 edge on the glass despite the presence of Jared Sullinger.
Florida also held a 15-8 advantage in second-chance points, but theses numbers weren't enough to overcome 16 turnovers. Bradley Beal, who led the way with 17 points, turned the ball over five times while fellow guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton finished with three apiece. Florida was outscored by 14 points at the foul line but they knocked down 11 of 22 from beyond the arc, and the 14 points scored by Erik Murphy is another encouraging sign. Florida's backcourt prowess is well-known at the early point in the season, but getting 28 points from their starting frontcourt against a Top 5 opponent is something that they should be able to build on.
1. While Florida and Kentucky split their games against ranked opponents, neither LSU nor South Carolina did the SEC any favors on the road. LSU visited defending regular season Big South champ Coastal Carolina and left with a 71-63 loss as they were out-rebounded 51-32. Sam McLaurin led the Chanticleers with 16 rebounds. The Gamecocks on the other hand shot 3-for-27 from three in losing 58-53 at Elon. The teams in the bottom half of the SEC are going to need to step up if the conference is to boost its national reputation.
2. There were two impressive road victories in the morning hours of the College Basketball Tipoff Marathon: Drexel pulling away in the second half to whip Rider 80-62 and Kent State winning 70-60 at West Virginia. The Dragons, expected to at the very least contend in the CAA, received 21 points apiece from Samme Givens and Frantz Massenat. Kent State outscored WVU 42-27 in the second half and held the Mountaineers to 36.8% shooting for the game.
3. There are few players hotter than Texas guard J'Covan Brown. Brown scored 35 points to go along with six rebounds, six assists and no turnovers in the Longhorns' 100-90 win over Rhode Island. Brown's averaging 28.0 points, 8.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game on the season with just one turnover through two games.
4. How impressive was Memphis in their 97-81 win over Belmont? Will Barton led three starters with 20 or more points with 23 while Joe Jackson accounted for 20 points, seven assists and four rebounds with just two turnovers. Memphis shot 58.6% from the field while their length and athleticism limited the Bruins to 38.8% shooting.
5. Damian Lillard made just four of sixteen shots in scoring 17 points, but that was OK as Scott Bamforth dropped 28 to lead Weber State to a 73-63 win over Utah State in Ogden. The preseason favorites to win the Big Sky made 12 of 23 shots from beyond the arc and forced 15 Aggie turnovers. Weber State visits BYU on December 7th.
Four Notable Performances
1. G J'Covan Brown (Texas)
35 points, six rebounds, six assists and no turnovers in the Longhorns' 100-90 win over Rhode Island.
2. G Dorenzo Hudson and F Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech)
Hudson finished with 31 points and five rebounds while Finney-Smith added 14 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals in the Hokies' 78-63 win over FIU.
3. F Josh Davis (Tulane)
Davis spearheaded the Green Wave's 96-50 beating of Nicholls State with 23 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
4. G/F James Nunnally and G/F Orlando Johnson (UCSB)
Nunnally scored 21 points and grabbed four rebounds while Johnson scored 24 to go along with eight rebounds and three assists in the Gauchos' 89-56 win over Santa Clara.