I tried to watch an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game, but a Big Ten battle broke out during No. 2 Duke's 73-68 win over No. 4 Ohio State Wednesday night.
Well, at least the first half felt that way.
The Buckeyes impressively controlled the opening tempo despite being on the road. Led by point guard Aaron Craft, who plays on-ball defense like he's discovered a human magnet, Thad Matta's squad completely shut down the normally-potent Duke offense.
The Blue Devils scored just two baskets in the final 14 minutes of the half and trailed 31-23 going into the locker room. Leading scorer Mason Plumlee got limited touches and Duke consistently settled for outside shots. The Buckeyes, who had 10 offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes, simply out-toughed, out-hustled and out-played the Blue Devils on both sides of the court.
But whatever Mike Krzyzewski said at halftime worked.
Duke came out with more passion. It rotated better on defense, kept Ohio State off the offensive glass and, most importantly, found ways to get Plumlee involved.
As those things happened, everything opened up for the rest of the offense. Ryan Kelly dropped 15 points and fantastic freshman Rasheed Sulaimon chipped in 17, including several key buckets down the stretch to help the Blue Devils pull away in this tightly-contested battle for its third win over a top-four team already this season.
Of course, Duke tried to make things interesting by missing a bunch of free throws down the stretch, but 66-64 was as close as Ohio State could make it.
In the disappointing loss, Deshaun Thomas had a quiet 16 points and not much else, while Aaron Craft couldn't match his defensive effort on the other end as he struggled from the floor (3-of-15) en route to just 11 points.
The Cameron Crazies make Cameron Indoor one of the toughest places in the nation for opponents to play, as relayed by ProBasketballDraft:
Crazy atmosphere in Cameron Indoor Arena.The Blue Devils have such a great home court advantage.— Probasketballdraft (@Probballdraft) November 29, 2012
While Duke has one of the best home-court advantages in the country, Ohio State countered with one of the best on-ball defenders in the country. From Sports Illustrated's Andy Glockner:
I would be so sick of Aaron Craft after playing 40 minutes against him.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) November 29, 2012
I think it's probably safe to say pretty much everyone else would agree with that.
The Blue Devils struggled immensely to score the ball in the first. Part of that was Craft's defense, but part of it was Duke settling for three-pointers and not getting the ball inside to its leading scorer. Via Rush the Court's Brian Otskey:
Plumlee has only 3 shots in 12 minutes of play. Just mind-boggling.— Brian Otskey (@botskey) November 29, 2012
Luckily for us, former Ohio State player, founder of Club Trillion and Grantland writer Mark Titus got this quote from Jay Bilas:
"Fatigue fatigue fatigue, fatigue. Fatigue fatigue: Fatigue fatigue fatigue. Fatigue fatigue. Fatigue. Toughness. Fatigue." --Jay Bilas— Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) November 29, 2012
ESPN's Eamonn Brennan provided equally captivating analysis:
Mason Plumlee is tall and can jump very high.— Eamonn Brennan (@eamonnbrennan) November 29, 2012
Player of the Game: Mason Plumlee
Plumlee had a very quiet first half, but he proved during the final 20 minutes why he is an early top candidate for the Naismith College Player of the Year:
Who is your Player of the Game?
He got dunks in transition (make that insane dunks in transition), scored with his back to the basket, crashed the offensive glass, hit his free throws and he protected the rim on the other side of the court.
It was truly amazing how Duke's offense, even against arguably the best defensive squad in the country, transformed in the second half when Plumlee got more involved.
In the end, the senior finished with 20 points (6-of-11, 9-of-12 from the line), 17 rebounds and a block.
Sulaimon, who scored all of his 17 points during Duke's crucial second half while providing terrific energy and defense on the other end of the court, deserves mention here, as well.
The Blue Devils stay home to take on Delaware on Saturday, while the Buckeyes head back to Columbus to take on the powerhouse that is the Northern Kentucky Norse on the same day.