Duke's Tyler Thornton: Why the Blue Devils' Forgotten Freshman Needs More PT

Mike KlineAnalyst IJanuary 10, 2011

Tyler Thornton (far left) helped give Duke a spark off the bench Sunday in its win over conference foe Maryland.
Tyler Thornton (far left) helped give Duke a spark off the bench Sunday in its win over conference foe Maryland.

It was clear to anyone watching Duke struggle in its second conference game at home on Sunday night that the Blue Devils were in trouble.

Duke only had a one point lead going into the half and were lucky to have that; to make matters worse, after what many had expected to be a lively half-time speech from Mike Krzyzewski, the Blue Devils did not respond.

Krzyzewski in something he hasn't had to do but one time this year: Called a time out and lit into the No. 1 team in the land.

As part of his second half strategy, the Hall of Fame coach went to his bench for inspiration. But instead of calling on a Plumlee, Andre Dawkins or Seth Curry to ignite a spark he called on Tyler Thornton.

Thornton responded, but not how many would think.

He didn't start stuffing the stat sheet with points, rebounds or assists. What he did do was help Duke ratchet up its defensive intensity by applying ball pressure, getting his hands on balls and drawing charges.

While some of what Thornton did goes down in the stat book, most of what he did will go unrecognized to anyone not watching and just looking at the box scores.

Most of this season Thornton has been a spectator, playing against lesser opponents and as many suspected, seeing his playing time go down against more serious competition.

Many expected this season to be a learning one and with Kyrie Irving running the show, there was a good chance Thornton would be overlooked.

With Irving now out indefinitely, Thornton has a real chance and made a great case on Sunday, to earn more playing time.

Again, while he isn't the kind of player to light up the score board, he showed he can raise Duke's defensive intensity and he showed, even as a freshman, that he can help the Blue Devils win.

Much like players like Lance Thomas, Lee Melchionni or David McClure, who in the past were x-factors who did all of the little things, Thornton showed he could fit right into that mold.

He is a smart player with a lot of heart and just enough moxy to get in a defenders face and pester them for stretches at a time.

With the type of effort and inspiration that Thornton gave on Sunday, it shouldn't shock anyone and it certainly may be a good idea to see him on the floor more often.

He appears to be earning it.