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October 27, 2012DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke basketball opened its two-game exhibition schedule Saturday afternoon with a 105-87 victory over the Division II reigning national champion Western Washington Vikings.
The Blue Devils were faced with an experienced Vikings team that featured a lineup dominated by juniors and seniors, which ultimately provided the home team with plenty of learning opportunities. Western Washington, who managed to keep within striking distance for much of the game, responded to nearly every blow the Blue Devils threw at them
The Vikings' ability to hold its composure and withstand some of the Blue Devils' blows, preventing Duke from turning the contest into a blowout, impressed head coach Mike Krzyzewski, but didn't necessarily surprise him.
"You can tell why they won the Division II championship," Krzyzewski said after the game. "This tradition for us to play the Division II champions has worked out extremely well because you always end up playing a team that believes they can win, is extremely well coached, they're together and if they return a good number of their people they're going to be in the hunt again and they fit that description perfectly.
"Their kids are fearless, they're strong and they caused a lot of turnovers. We haven't been able to practice like that with the limited numbers and I thought they were really strong when our big guys got the ball."
Western Washington was able to keep things close for a while, drawing to within just seven points at the 6:24 mark of the first half. The Vikings' effort to cut Duke's lead to single digits came after falling behind by as many as 17 points in the opening 20 minutes of play.
Duke managed to stretch the lead back out to 15 by halftime, but the Vikings did not let the Blue Devils' late push to discourage them.
In fact, Western Washington managed to keep things fairly close for the first seven minutes of the second half. After Duke pushed its lead to 18 to start the final 20 minutes, the Vikings clawed their way back into the contest, cutting their deficit to as few as 11 points with 13:58.
"With the limited numbers we have right now ? when you get a double figure lead especially if it's like 15 or something like that, more so than 10, you can let up just a little bit," Krzyzewski said. "I thought we let up and 'Boom' because they're good they pounced it."
The Blue Devils were able to respond in their own way, however. Thought Western Washington kept themselves in the game, Duke never let their own confidence slip and managed to respond to their coaching during those moments.
In the first half, it was the play of Duke's freshmen, most notably Rasheed Sulaimon, that kept providing the team with a lift and edge.
Sulaimon scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half and made a solid impact on the defensive end of the floor. The freshman guard went 6 of 9 from the field, including 2 of 4 from behind the 3-point line for the game and managed to post three assists and two steals in the game.
Overall, it was an absolutely superb performance for a young player experiencing his first real college game.
"He had an unbelievable first half and it started off with the first play," Krzyzewski noted. "We had called a certain thing and he made a read that was opposite of what the play was but it was the right read. And for a freshman on his first play to have the guts to make a read and follow his instincts, that's impressive for me.
"Sulaimon's going to be a real good player because he's 6-4 can defend the ball, defend off the ball, he can drive it, right now he's a little bit of a streaky outside shooter and soon as he gets that part of the game - he's a real good player."
Sulaimon was not the only freshman to make his presence felt in the game. Amile Jefferson quietly put up very efficient numbers across the board.
His ability to get to the basket put him on the line often and provided him an opportunity to get some easy buckets around the basket. Jefferson was 5 of 7 from the field and 3 of 5 from the free throw line to finish with 13 points. He grabbed three rebounds and blocked two shots, while altering several more.
Jefferson's length proved to be a huge advantage for the Blue Devils both on the defensive end of the floor and on offense, as he was able to get some strong looks inside. The normally quiet Jefferson brought a fearless, confident and energetic mentality to the court, and Krzyzewski was excited to see that aspect of his game show through against the Vikings.
"I like Amile's personality today," he said. "That's the way he is in practice. If he finished a couple times, he left about four points on the floor, he played real well and gave us a lift, but if he ends up finishing that would have been a great performance by him.
"He's got the widest wingspan on the team - he's got a 7-1 wingspan. When he starts moving and playing like that, that's a lot of length on the court."
Redshirt freshman Alex Murphy also made some strong plays throughout the contest, scoring six points, grabbing four rebounds and blocking two shots. Murphy looked to attack the paint often and though he had trouble hanging onto the ball in traffic, just as Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Quinn Cook had, he still managed to make an impact on the game.
He showed why the Blue Devils' coaching staff is so excited about what he brings to the table and how he can get his own points.
Overall, Krzyzewski was just pleased with what the three young players provided the Blue Devils on Saturday.
"To see our young kids play so well in their first outing - we had three kids playing their first college games in Amile, Rasheed and Alex. They did a really good job. I'm really pleased with the young kids."
While the first half belonged to Sulaimon and his fellow newcomers, Plumlee and Kelly showed up big in the second half to lead the Blue Devils.
Plumlee, who had big numbers in the first half with 11 points and eight rebounds, found himself struggling at times to get good shots off and to protect the basketball. He turned it over three in times in the first half, leading his coach to label his and Kelly's performance as "OK" in the first half.
Plumlee was 5 of 7 from the floor in the second half and finished the game with 22 points. He also finished the game with 11 boards. For a while, he put the team on his back, scoring six points over a two minute span of time late in the second half to ward off any hope the Vikings had of cutting into Duke's lead.
Kelly, who registered 10 points in the first half, was also strong in the final 20 minutes of play. The senior joined Plumlee with 22 points in the game, while adding six rebounds and four assists. The two took over the game, ultimately taking the visitors out of the contest.
"I thought in the first half they played OK, but they got the ball taken away from them and didn't finish," Krzyzewski said. "Then in the second half they played like really good players."
The performances put forth by Kelly and Plumlee helped Duke maintain a lead of nearly 20 points throughout the final nine minutes of the game.
Overall, the Blue Devils had a solid showing for their first game against an outside opponent. Despite the score and the way in which Western Washington battled, Krzyzewski was happy with how his team came out and played.
Duke now has something to build upon heading into Thursday's exhibition against Winston-Salem State.
"The first half I was just hot. I had things going. A lot of shots going in and a lot of great drives and that was set up by my teammates. In the second half it was Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee's half - they just dominated." -- Rasheed Sulaimon
"I want to be the best player I can be. I want to be a player - not someone just in a position. I want to be able to get down there and bang, get offensive rebounds, make plays, hit the shot that is open and especially getting to the rack off penetration, getting fouled and make free throws. I just want to really do whatever coach and the team needs me to do." -- Amile Jefferson