Naturally, Duke wins with defense

March, 25, 2013
3/25/13
1:45
AM ET

PHILADELPHIA – The sixth- and 24th-best offensive teams in the country got together for a little round-of-32 game in the NCAA tournament on Sunday evening.

Naturally it went exactly as was expected. That is, what is to be expected from a game in the 2012-13 season -- or, as it has come to be known, the Year In Which Offense Went To Die.

Neither Duke nor Creighton could score. Neither could shoot, and two of the best scoring teams were left relying on their defense. So in an ending befitting this offensive offensive season, Duke advanced to the Sweet 16 because of a 66-50 dogfight with Creighton. That's 12 points fewer than what the Blue Devils average and 25 fewer for the Bluejays. Not to mention that it was Creighton's lowest score all season, by a lot.

"I think the tournament benefits flexible teams," Mason Plumlee said. "This game didn’t go the way anyone expected, but we were able to adjust."

That shouldn’t come as a surprise, really.

If there is a man who could write the manual on NCAA tournament and other college basketball experiences, it is Mike Krzyzewski. Though his team has not yet played on a boat, it has played just about everywhere else and against just about everyone else.

[+] EnlargeSeth Curry
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsSeth Curry had 17 points but only shot 5-of-15 against Creighton.
It's his experience as much as the collections of McDonald’s All-Americans that have now led the Blue Devils to 27 Sweet 16 appearances.

"There isn’t much we haven’t seen," Plumlee said.

Well, maybe this -- maybe two usually sweet-stroking offenses hurling enough bricks to build an annex on the edifice of Citizens Bank Ballpark across the street.

Duke shot 7-of-20 from the arc compared to Creighton, which went 2-of-19.

There were more fouls called (46) than field goals made (45).

The dirty little secret, to outside observers at least, is that the Blue Devils can actually defend. You won’t necessarily find them ranked among the nation’s best in any defensive category, but they are more than capable of holding their own when necessary.

And in this unexpected offensive disaster, it was necessary.

"Both teams played great defense," Krzyzewski said. "It was just so difficult to score. It’s the best defense we’ve played all season."

Of course, eventually someone has to score. The game sort of dictates that happens a little bit.

That’s when the more traditional version of Duke’s flexibility had a purpose. Quite simply, it has players -- better ones than Creighton. Player of the year candidate Doug McDermott finished with 21 points, but got 12 of those at the free throw line. Otherwise, he shot 4-of-16 from the field.

It was everyone else that couldn’t score. No one else hit double figures for the Bluejays -- Gregory Echenique tried, finishing with nine.

But while some of Duke’s more prolific players were forced to enjoy the view from the bench -- Plumlee and Ryan Kelly each were saddled with early foul trouble -- they had numbers. Seth Curry scored 17, and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon chipped in 21.

"The coaches always tell me to stay aggressive and to look for openings when they’re there," Sulaimon said. "Not to force anything but to just make reads and if I have the shot, to take it with confidence." That he did in this game speaks volumes for his self-esteem, as no one had much confidence while shooting.

Because clearly, during this season, when two of the best offensive teams get together, no one can score.

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball

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