DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke got off to a slow start against Cornell Wednesday evening, but the Blue Devils pulled things together late in the first half and eventually cruised past the visiting Big Red, 88-47, improving to 10-0 on the season.
Through the first 17 minutes of the contest, Cornell found a way to keep the game close, even holding a two-point lead at the 14:43 mark and tying it up at 19 with 10:48 to go in the half. The teams battled closely from that point to around the 3:25 mark of the half.
But that's when things began to get out of control and swing in Duke's favor.
"The last eight minutes of the first half we started getting it," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We ended the first half really well, and then the second half we were terrific. Our guys were playing so hard, and so together, it was just very difficult for them to score."
Over the course of the final 3:25 of the opening half, Duke went on a 9-2 run to jump ahead by 11 at 41-30 going into the break.
Duke's level of play only increased following halftime, ultimately turning the hotly contested game into a full blowout at Cameron Indoor. Duke began the second half with a 19-0 run over the first 6:09 of the period, and 28-2 from the final 3:25 of the first half. The run pushed Duke ahead 60-32, essentially ending any hope of an upset by the Big Red.
Duke extended its run over the course of the next five minutes, improving its lead to 82-34 with 8:31 to go in the contest. Through the first 11:29 of the second half, Cornell managed to post just four points.
The offensive explosion came at the hands of a tremendous second half start from Mason Plumlee and Rasheed Sulaimon. The two combined for 10 of the team's first 12 points of the second half. While the offense was definitely on for the Blue Devils, players attribute the second half performance to their improved play on the defensive end of the floor.
Duke forced eight of the team's 15 first half turnovers in the final 7:30 of the opening period, and then added 11 more turnovers in the second half. The Big Red completed the night with 26 turnovers. Cornell's miscues turned into 35 points off turnovers for the Blue Devils.
"We invested more on the defensive end and it created more on offense for us," senior Ryan Kelly said. "When we really dig in we can do some pretty good things on the defensive side of the ball. You saw that late first half and throughout the second half and that's a team that's going to win when we do that."
The Blue Devils again looked like a team on a mission, and it was evident with not only the way they played defense, but also how they scored the basketball at such a high level.
Duke connected on 56.7-percent of its shots from the floor, with 42 of them coming in the paint. Mason Plumlee had another strong performance, scoring 18 points on 8-of-8 shooting from the floor. His efficient play has become such the norm that the senior has developed an expectation of post dominance.
Plumlee got help in the post, though, as Kelly scored a few baskets in the paint, as did Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy. Sulaimon and Seth Curry also found ways to get points off easy layups.
Curry was outstanding, silently scoring 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Many of his easy looks, as well as Plumlee's, came thanks to the precise passing of Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton.
Sulaimon, who also made good use of the two guards' passing abilities, finished the game with 16 points.
The two point guards combined for 17 assists (Cook 12, Thornton 5) and just one turnover. The performance was as impressive as they have had all season long and it made a world of a difference for the Duke offense. Cook and Thornton also combined for four steals and eight defensive rebounds, leading to easy fast-break points.
"They are getting guys shots in the places they want it, especially Mason, he's able to catch and just finish instead of having to make one-on-one moves," Curry said.
Krzyzewski also added his thoughts on the duo.
"They have been handling the ball well," he said. "Quinn is really playing extremely well, and Tyler is usually just a workman like player. It is nothing flashy, and they value the ball pretty well. We had a lot of assists tonight and only a few turnovers and forced a lot of turnovers, but our guard play has been excellent since Kentucky. Since the Kentucky game we have been really good, but we have been really good at the guard spot."
While the game certainly had some outstanding moments for Duke, there are some areas in which the Blue Devils need to continue to place some emphasis on in terms of improvement.
Prior to Wednesday's contest, several members of the Blue Devils' roster told the media that defensive rebounding needed to improve. In fact, rebounding is something the coaching staff placed a heavy emphasis on over the team's 10-day break.
Kelly, Plumlee, Sulaimon and Cook were all confident the team would be able to make strides in that area against Cornell.
Unfortunately, some struggles still persisted.
Through the first 20 minutes of action, the Blue Devils had been out-rebounded by a much smaller Cornell team and it wasn't even close. Over that time period, Cornell grabbed 17 rebounds to Duke's 10.
Krzyzewski addressed the issue at halftime and the Blue Devils responded, at least to a degree. Duke managed to out-rebound the Big Red in the second half 20-18, but lost the battle for the game, 35-30.
"Yeah, didn't do a good job there," Kelly said when asked about the defensive rebounding. "We need to keep improving. That's an area that needs to keep improving. We have another opportunity to show what we can do tomorrow."
With Duke's high-scoring performance and decisive advantage, Krzyzewski was able to get Murphy and Jefferson some quality minutes. And like they have in recent weeks, they both responded and took advantage of the opportunity.
Murphy finished the game with 7 points, 3 rebounds, a block and a steal. He was in the game for 16 minutes. Jefferson added 8 points and 3 rebounds in 16 minutes as well.
"It felt good to be out there," Murphy said. "I was out there for an extended period of time. We had a big lead and I was comfortable out there. I just let the game come and flow. It felt good, though."
Duke takes the floor again Thursday when Elon travels to Durham for another 7 p.m. contest.
** Marshall Plumlee saw his first career action at Duke, playing two minutes in the first half. During that span, Plumlee recorded his first rebound and block of his career.
Unfortunately, Plumlee was taken out of the game with what Krzyzewski described as a sprained foot after the game.
Not long after, Steve Wiseman of the Durham Herald Sun tweeted that Plumlee did not sprain his foot, but instead "felt discomfort from orthotic device he's wearing in shoe to protect foot."
Plumlee is expected to be held out of Thursday's game as a precaution.