The win was Duke's third over a top five opponent this month, and the seventh on the season.
Leading the charge after halftime was Rasheed Sulaimon who scored all 17 of his points in the final 20 minutes on the strength of 7-of-10 shooting from the floor. The night and day performance was a hot topic after the game ended:
"I let my teammates down in the beginning, not playing as well as I could be, and (coach Mike Krzyzewski) really got on me at halftime," Sulaimon said. "I just love these guys and wanted to go out there and respond."
Here's our takeaways from the game:
1. Senior leaders keep team on even keel: A season ago the Blue Devils were shellacked in Columbus by Ohio State. Before the Blue Devils could blink, it was 11-0 and Ohio State was off to the races. Fast forward a year and the Buckeyes seemed poised to break the game open again when a tip-in by Lenzelle Smith made it 33-23 with 18:27 remaining in the game. From there, Duke would scrap, claw, and rally to eventually tie the game at 53 when Ryan Kelly knocked down a three pointer with 6:15 to play. Kelly would give Duke the lead on the next possession by hitting another three. Throughout the game the difference a year has made for Duke was evident. Despite the poor shooting in the first half, the bad bounces, and the physical style used by Ohio State, Duke never panicked and never seemed unsure of what was happening.
"It's a game of runs and you know you're always capable of going on a run," said Plumlee. "We weren't panicking. We just knew we had to make adjustments. We knew we weren't going to score 20 points again in the second half. We made our adjustments and guys stepped up."
Perhaps it was the byproduct of the schedule, mixed with the emergence of a strong senior class, but Duke seems to believe they are among the nation's elite and they are playing like it even when the shots aren't falling. That's a big change from a year ago, or, as Ryan Kelly puts it:
"We've seen a level of maturity out of our team, and a level of confidence that we can do whatever it takes to win. Those are good signs."
2. Sulaimon isn't playing like a freshman: Despite missing both field goal attempts and turning the ball over on what should have been an easy outlet pass and score, Rasheed Sulaimon didn't panic. Nor did he sulk when he was singled out in the locker room at halftime according to Coach K:
"I don't know if a kid is going to respond. I cannot see into people's eyes. He has great character and with our team, we do not have to build character, we have it. We just have to get it even higher, and for a freshman to respond that way is superb. It just doesn't happen very often. Sometimes you lose the game, and you spend two days showing tape and you hope they respond the next game, but this kid at halftime said ‘you're right, I have to do something' and he was sensational"
After halftime the freshman hit seven of 10 shots, grabbed four rebounds, and continually slashed into the lane and broke down the Buckeye defense in a manner that seemed to channel an upperclassman Nolan Smith. So what sparked the change in the Texas freshman?
"Coach told me to step it up," said Sulaimon. "I wanted to step it up for my teammates, and when he called my number I was just very aggressive to deliver, and I'm just fortunate that I could deliver. I just really wanted to attack, be aggressive, and look for my shot. I thought in the first half I was very passive. In the second half I started to look for my shot a little more, and I'm just very fortunate that they went in."
3. Point guard play is the difference: A season ago the Blue Devils were forced to go with Seth Curry as a lead guard. Both Tyler Thornton and Quinn Cook were given spot minutes, but neither was productive enough to earn the job full time. It made for an offense that would sputter as much as anything else. Now, a year later, Cook has won the job and Wednesday was another example of just how effective he's become. Against Aaron Craft, the reigning defensive player of the year in the Big 10, Cook had some trouble with his shot (3-of-10), but played an exceptional all-around floor game. The sophomore handed out eight assists (against just three turnovers) and grabbed six rebounds while playing the entire game. Defensively, Cook forced Craft into a dismal shooting night (3-of-15) and harassed the Ohio State point guard into three turnovers against just one assist. Coming into the game, Craft had a 7-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. It's been a total transformation for Cook is averaging 13.3 points, 6.8 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 36.0 minutes over the last four games. And it's not been lost on his coach:
"He shot really well from the free throw line. Quinn played a great game. He was up against one of the best point guards in the United States, as good as an on-ball defender as there is, and Quinn had eight assists and three turnovers. An amazing stat for Quinn was the six defensive rebounds, which two of them led to those run-outs…his six defensive rebounds were a key stat in the game. We have a hard time on defensive boards. That has been an area, when we have time to practice we will practice it…Quinn is playing great."
4. Curry's injury still a concern: Senior Seth Curry has made it through six full practices so far this season. After Wednesday night he's played in seven games, averaging just under 31 minutes per contest as Duke tried to manage wear and tear for a lower leg injury that sounds suspiciously like a stress fracture. Against Ohio State, Curry was noticeably limping throughout the game and things got worse once he rolled his right ankle midway through the second half. With the Blue Devils facing just one tough game between now and the trip to Raleigh in mid-January, it may be time for the senior to take some games off in order to get some much needed rest. It'll be interesting to see what the projected reduction in minutes does to the rest of the rotation - especially on the wing.
5. Important time for two players coming up: The Blue Devils have a tough game against Temple in a little more than two weeks. The game against the Owls is the only one in which Duke will be projected to be tested. Because of that, and with the need to rest Curry's injury, Duke will have a number of minutes open in the rotation. It's a prime chance for both Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy to earn some more time. Murphy and Jefferson both played just three minutes against Ohio State, and neither has made much of an impact over the last four contests as the competition has ramped up. Now, however, there are a number of games and practices which will afford both players the chance to earn some quality minutes.