Duke bounced back in strong fashion in its second game with one of its best players sidelined.
Now the top-ranked Blue Devils will face one of their toughest ACC tests Wednesday night at No. 25 Miami, which is off to its best conference start in 15 years despite also being without one of its stars.
The Blue Devils also will be out for revenge after a 78-74 overtime loss to the Hurricanes in Durham in the most recent meeting Feb. 5.
Duke (16-1, 3-1) followed its first loss of this season at North Carolina State with a 73-57 home win against Georgia Tech on Thursday. Without Ryan Kelly for the second straight game – the forward remains out indefinitely with a right foot injury – the Blue Devils played much better.
They had lost three in a row when playing without Kelly dating back to last postseason. He ranks third on the team in 2012-13 with 13.4 points per game.
Seth Curry had 24 points Thursday – the third time in four games he’s scored 22 or more – and tied a career high with six 3-pointers. Mason Plumlee posted 16 points and 13 rebounds despite starting slow, going 2 of 12 from the floor in the first half.
Plumlee (17.4 ppg) and Curry (16.9) are the ACC’s second- and third-leading scorers.
“The biggest thing is, we have to find a new identity because we are a different team (without Kelly),” said Plumlee, whose field-goal percentage of 59.1 ranks among the nation’s top 15. “Whatever that is, we have to find it. We have to play to our strengths, and we’re not the same team that was (15-0).”
After missing all 10 of his shots from the floor against N.C. State, freshman Rasheed Sulaimon responded well to his first benching. He scored 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting as a reserve against the Yellow Jackets, a major improvement after hitting 9 of 40 (22.5 percent) over his previous five games.
“It’s all about how you come back,” Plumlee said of his teammate. “I don’t know of any player who started every game ever at Duke. I mean, (coach Mike Krzyzewski) sat Elton Brand and those guys. We just told him it’s part of the process.”
Reggie Johnson had 27 points and 12 rebounds for Miami in its upset of then-No. 7 Duke last February, but he’s expected to miss a ninth straight game with a broken left thumb. The Hurricanes (13-3, 4-0) went 1-2 in their first three games without him but have since gone 5-0.
Their start in the ACC, which includes three road wins, is the team’s best in conference play since beginning 5-0 in the Big East in 1997-98, and has helped launch the Hurricanes to their first Top 25 appearance since Jan. 11, 2010.
Johnson was averaging 12.6 points and a team-leading 10.1 rebounds, but Julian Gamble has stepped up with 8.9 points and 7.5 boards per game in eight starts since Johnson suffered the injury.
“Julian has held down that center position very well,” coach Jim Larranaga said. “… He knows his role, that role hasn’t changed. We’re not asking him to be Reggie Johnson, we’re just asking him to be the best Julian Gamble he can be.”
Durand Scott continues to lead the Hurricanes in scoring at 13.8 ppg, but he’s struggled in conference play, shooting 35.9 percent.
Miami is 0-6 all-time against top-ranked teams, but two of its three wins over top-five opponents have been against Duke.