The No. Duke Blue Devils used a total team effort to capture the Battle 4 Atlantis defeating the No. 2 Louisville Cardinals 76-71 as all five starters finished in double-figures for the second straight game.
With Mason Plumlee exhausted from playing a total of 72 minutes in the previous two games of the tournament, the rest of the Blue Devil starters stepped in a big way. Plumlee contributed with 16 points and seven rebounds but it was key moments from his teammates that led to Duke’s victory.
Sophomore Quinn Cook was named tournament MVP averaging 13.6 points, 6.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds and two steals. His performance in the last minute showed incredible composure scoring the last six points for the Blue Devils. Cook nailed a jumper just outside the elbow with three seconds left on the shot clock and 24 seconds remaining in the game that put Duke up five. He was later fouled twice and drained all four free throws to seal the victory for the Blue Devils.
Despite his clutch play down the stretch, Cook’s biggest moment in the game came right after Louisville took the lead for the first time in the second half. Peyton Siva nailed a three to put the Cardinals up by one but on the next possession Cook quickly answered with a three of his own to kill Louisville’s momentum.
Cook’s confidence is riding high after the three-day tournament as coach Mike Krzyzewski’s move to insert him into the starting line-up has clearly paid off.
Senior Ryan Kelly provided 14 points, six rebounds and four assists before fouling out of the game. His key moment of the game came late with a monstrous block against Louisville’s Kevin Ware’s lay-up attempt that would have given the Cardinals a one point lead. The ball bounced to Seth Curry who pushed it up to Plumlee for a two handed jam putting Duke up 66-63. Kelly’s hustle and determination on defense helped contain the Cardinal’s athleticism throughout the game.
Although he was bothered by an injury during the three day tournament, Curry managed to deliver 14 points in the finals. His key moment came when he nailed a buzzer beater three pointer at half-time that gave Duke a five point lead heading into the break.
That five point lead wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for the performance of freshman Rasheed Sulaimon in the first half. Sulaimon was the offensive spark that got Duke going early in the game delivering 11 points, four rebounds and two steals in the first half.
The guard play of Sulaimon and Cook has complimented the senior trio of Plumlee, Curry and Kelly in spectacular fashion. The confidence and chemistry is visibly growing every game with the five starters. They only missed having all five scoring in double-figures every game of the tournament by one point when Cook scored nine points in the opener while the other four finished with double-digits.
This Duke team has looked determined from the get-go and nobody has faced a tougher schedule this season. The ACC was open for the taking with North Carolina State Wolfpack and North Carolina Tar Heels both losing early in upsets. After capturing the Battle 4 Atlantis the Blue Devils have shown they are head and shoulders above the rest of their conference rivals.
By going undefeated through a difficult early season schedule with wins over two top five seeded teams, Duke will be named the nation’s top team when the new rankings are released. The Blue Devils only wished their reward would be a bit sweeter as things don’t get any easier with a match-up against the Ohio State Buckeyes next up on Nov. 28.