Seniors Showing Way To ACC Supremacy

Duke has gotten tremendous production from Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler en route to a league best 9-1 mark in the ACC.

Duke is intent on winning championships and that tends to be the focus for the Blue Devils. While the ultimate goal is the prize in April, the process to get there starts with conference success.

So that's why coach Mike Krzyzewski puts an emphasis on winning in-season tournaments and the Atlantic Coast Conference because, according to him, it creates a winning mindset.

So while the Duke-North Carolina rivalry was celebrated again this week, the most important part for Krzyzewski was that Wednesday night's game would determine first place in the ACC (at least for the time being).

"That's the thing we're playing for," senior forward Kyle Singler said. "That's what matters to us." Seth Curry, a sophomore transfer, played in his first Duke-North Carolina game.

"No matter what, the game is going to be big," Curry said. "But when it's a battle for first place, it makes it that much more exciting."

The Blue Devils won the game, so they've past the halfway mark in the conference holding the top spot in the standings. "That was the key motivation," Krzyzewski said. "The records of the past never really enter into what's happening right now."

?The Blue Devils have been inconsistent with their outside shooting, but they've developed the reputation as a strong shooting team nonetheless. One of the benefits for Duke is that they have numerous players capable of hitting from long range - or just about anybody other than junior C Miles Plumlee and sophomore F Mason Plumlee. So this spreads defenses and makes it difficult to defend the Blue Devils. Five different Duke players hit 3-pointers against North Carolina, though the Blue Devils were 8-for-26 from 3-point range as a team.

?--The Blue Devils came back from a 16-point deficit behind a stretch of efficient offense as sophomore G Seth Curry, playing in his first game against North Carolina, helped spearhead the rally along with senior G Nolan Smith, who racked up a career-best 34 points. Duke toppled North Carolina 79-73, winning for the third time in a row in the series. The victory allowed Duke to push its homecourt winning streak to 33 games, which is the longest active streak in the country.

--The matchup in the backcourt for the Duke-North Carolina game included freshman G Tyler Thornton of Duke and freshman G Kendall Marshall of North Carolina. They went to middle school together before facing each other as high school opponents in the Washington, D.C., area. Thornton said he had a good relationship with Marshall.

--Duke senior F Kyle Singler barely got to know North Carolina's Harrison Barnes when Barnes was recruited by Duke. But they ended up linked this fall when they were together on the preseason All-American team. Singler knew he would be assigned to guard Barnes in their first matchup, but he didn't want to make too much of that situation. "It's more about the game than individual matchups," Singler said.

--The Blue Devils hold the country's longest active home-court winning streak at 33 games inside Cameron Indoor Stadium after Wednesday night's win over rival North Carolina. In ACC games, the Blue Devils have won 16 in a row at home since North Carolina's 2009 visit.

?19 -- The number of consecutive games through Feb. 9 in which Duke has had at least one player score 20 or more points.

?"Tyler (Thornton) can put really good pressure on the ball and then I'm not wearing Nolan (Smith) out. I can wear Tyler out and his mom said it was OK." -- Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on the new backcourt starting combination used the past two games.



--at Miami, Feb. 13
?KEY MATCHUPS: Duke found Miami's Reggie Johnson to be a load on the interior in the first matchup of the season, so that makes efficient play from F Mason Plumlee and F Ryan Kelly to be critical. Miami's backcourt can give teams problems, so the Blue Devils will provide the Hurricanes with a different look if G Tyler Thornton keeps his new role as a starter because Thornton didn't play in the first meeting with Miami.

?The Blue Devils will wait to see if G Kyrie Irving can rejoin the lineup as the rehabilitation of the injured toe on his right foot goes on. In the meantime, the Blue Devils are making it a point to keep their backcourt players in good situations. That's evident by the limited number of turnovers they've committed. Duke has committed less than 10 turnovers in four of its last five games. But keeping freshman G Tyler Thornton under control in that area will be vital as the team moves forward. Thornton has joined the starting lineup for the past two games, and Saturday against North Carolina State he was charged with three of the team's nine turnovers in his 23 minutes of playing time.

?--Sophomore F Mason Plumlee's fifth double-double of the season came with 16 points and 12 rebounds against North Carolina State. He has scored in double figures in seven games this season, while he has reached double-digit rebounding totals 12 times. The 28 combined points and rebounds are his second-highest total of that combination behind his 25-point, 12-rebound effort vs. Marquette.

--Freshman G Tyler Thornton isn't the typical starter for a team ranked No. 5 nationally considering that he has made more than one field goal in a game only once (two on Nov. 19 vs. Colgate). He has been in the starting lineup the past two games, yet he hasn't scored more than five points in a game this season.

--Senior F Kyle Singler must have felt as if he had the day off against North Carolina State considering his 28 minutes of playing time was his third-lowest total of the season behind games against Colgate and Princeton. He picked up his fourth foul with more than 14 minutes remaining against N.C. State. Singler has been one of the ironmen in the ACC the past few seasons and he logged a full 40 minutes in the Blue Devils' first two ACC games this season. He has been at 38 minutes or 39 minutes in four other conference games this season.

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