Published November 22, 2012
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Minnesota put up some impressive defensive numbers in its first four games. Then the schedule got tougher, a lot tougher.
The Golden Gophers couldn't get over a second-half hump against No. 5 Duke and lost 89-71 on Thursday in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Minnesota had held its first four opponents to 28.6 shooting from the field and 19.1 percent on 3s while giving up 48.0 points per game.
Duke blew those numbers out of the water.
The Blue Devils (4-0) finished 30 of 55 (54.5 percent) from the field. Seth Curry, who finished with 25 points was 8 of 11 from the field and made all three of his 3-point attempts as the Blue Devils were 8 of 10 from beyond the arc.
Duke center Mason Plumlee had 20 points and a career high-tying 17 rebounds for the Blue Devils.
"We felt we could try and get physical with our three big guys but he's just a real talented player," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said of Plumlee. "Game plans are meant to work but it didn't today."
Rodney Williams had 16 points for the Golden Gophers (4-1), who just couldn't cut into the Blue Devils' lead in the second half.
"I think we had a couple of lapses on defense," Williams said. "Duke hit some big shots in the second half when we were playing good defense."
Williams was moved to the 3 spot for a while in the second half, a switch Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said was effective because it made Minnesota a bigger team.
"I just go out and play whatever Coach tells me to," Williams said. "I'll play wherever."
Plumlee, a 6-foot-10 senior, had four solid games this season before putting on an impressive performance against a team known for being physical and playing defense.
"Maturity is what you need to be this good," Krzyzewski said. "Most kids don't figure that out. He has. And it wasn't a case of him being immature before, he has just matured."
Plumlee was coming off a career-high 28 points on 9-for-11 shooting from the field, 10 of 11 from the free throw line and had nine rebounds in the Blue Devils' previous game, an 88-67 win over Florida Gulf Coast.
He was 8 of 10 from the free throw after coming in 17 of 22 (77.3 percent). That is very impressive for a guy who shot 52.8 percent from the line last season and 54.3 percent and 44.1 percent the two seasons before.
"I'm in a role that I love and feel like I am in control and confident in myself and my team," Plumlee said. "I think guys like Quinn (Cook) stepping up playing great and Ryan (Kelly) is playing better, too. I think everything is heading in the right direction."
Sophomore point guard Quinn Cook had a career-high 17 points for the Blue Devils who extended their regular-season tournament winning streak to 21 games, a run that stretches to the championship game of the 2006 CBE Classic.
"My job is to communicate with everybody and be a leader," Cook said. "My teammates have confidence in me and know I can do what I have to when things break down."
Ryan Kelly had 14 points for Duke and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon, the fifth starter, added 11. The only points scored by a non-starter were the two from Amile Jefferson. Only four reserves played for Duke.
"We're not going to score that much from our bench, that's not what those guys have to do when they get in the game," Krzyzewski said. "It doesn't always have to be a certain way. These guys come in to make the hustle plays, rebound, defend. Do what we need to be done."
Duke's lead ranged from 10 to 13 points throughout most of the second half. Minnesota, a team known for its toughness and defense, met its match in the Blue Devils, who were just as physical as the Gophers, and were more so through the last 5 minutes when Duke pulled away.
"K's teams are always hard to play and that means they are hard to beat," Smith said. "Plumlee is really good."
This was Duke's 150th consecutive game ranked in the Top Ten and the Blue Devils are 150-30 in those games.