Court Vision: Duke shows unselfishness, offensive flair in Furman blowout

Junior Rasheed Sulaimon leads a second unit for Duke that showed it can still be a productive one when Duke's starters need a rest.

DURHAM, N.C. — Just three days removed from its three-game road trip, No. 4 Duke (6-0) dominated Furman (1-3) by a final of 93-54, and the only drama was if Duke would cover the over 40-point spread, the most it had been favored by in well over a decade (it didn’t). Even in a blowout over an inferior opponent, though, there’s still plenty to take away.

1. Furman isn’t very good. But that doesn’t mean Duke can’t get anything out of it.

Statistician Ken Pomeroy had Furman ranked 311th out of 351 teams in his efficiency ratings, and the Paladins finished 340th last year. They entered the game 1-2 with a loss to College of Charleston by nearly 40 points, a win over Appalachian State and a loss to UC Davis. Duke, which had its sloppy moments during the game against Michigan State and the two games in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, needed to iron some things out, and they did.

"Our guys played hard for 40 minutes, and they played unselfishly, and there wasn’t a lull. I thought we got a little bit better today," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Overall, we just played good defense, shared the ball, didn’t turn it over and just took care of business in a really good way."

Duke had 24 assists on 38 made baskets, shot 57.6 percent from the field and dominated the boards, 0-27. Furman shot just 33.9 percent from the floor and that was only after a 37.9 percent effort in the second half. No, Furman is not good, but Duke still played well, and that matters.

2. To crack the Duke rotation you’ve got to produce when you’re on the court.

Ten Blue Devils saw double-digit minutes, which is big for this particular team that is still trying to develop its depth. At the beginning of the season, Duke was subbing 5-for-5 and not experiencing much drop-off. That changed when Duke started facing good teams last week, as Duke’s bench averaged just 48.5 minutes between the five players, or less than 10 minutes each (meaning the starters played over 150 between them, nearly 130). Then only three of the five played at all against Stanford.

The second five weren’t all that productive in the first two games against Michigan State and Temple, shooting 6-of-21 from the field and scoring 20 points in 97 minutes. And so the rotation was cut down yet again for the Stanford game, with only Marshall Plumlee, Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones seeing any action at all off the bench. Neither sophomore Semi Ojeleye nor freshman Grayson Allen played at all.

This Duke team has the potential to be deeper than any Krzyzewski has had in recent memory. But when he puts the bench guys in, they have to produce. Duke players know that. It’s really not rocket science, although it can seem that way at times to some of the younger ones who are used to playing no matter what.

"I think I’m getting better at it. It’s definitely a process and it’s an adjustment. But I think one of the biggest things for me is just mentally being prepared to come in the game and knowing what I need to do. It’s just different," said Allen, a McDonald’s All-American last year.

"It’s different coming in, coming off the bench. I never did that in high school, so it’s different. But I’m still having fun with the game and Coach has coached me up on what to go through, how to stay in the game even if I"m on the bench, and be ready."

In this game, though, the second unit saw plenty of action as a unit. After a lackluster first few stints, they really turned it on with about six minutes to go and had a strong finish to the game. In the end, they finished with 35 points combined in 78 minutes on 12-of-23 shooting (7-of-16 from three), adding five assists and just one turnover. Jones finished in double figures (he was 4-of-5 from three) and Sulaimon had nine, but both were active defensively and led the charge as their teammates fed off their energy.

"We just have to keep up the energy. Mainly when we come in, that second group, we just want to play defense and stop them," Allen said. "In the second half, Furman started scoring a little bit more and so when we came in for that last six minutes, the first thing we said to each other is we’ve just got to get stops. We have so much talent we can score on the offensive end, just moving the ball around. The main thing is we’ve got to come in and get stops."

It’s all about staying engaged on the bench, for one thing. Sulaimon talked about that, and it’s something that Krzyzewski has always been big on. He wants the bench players paying close attention to what’s going on in the game, not just laughing and joking with each other. And Krzyzewski sees all.

The biggest thing for the second unit is that sometimes, they can start pressing — whether it’s individually or as a group — knowing that a quick hook is, or could be, coming. But Krzyzewski challenged all of them to just play though it, move on to the next play rather than worrying about the previous one or the one to come.

"Coach really challenged us this week mentally — not so much physically, but mentally — just moving on to the next play. If you make a big shot or if you shoot an airball, move on to the next play," Sulaimon said. "He got on us for not playing at a level that we’re capable of playing at, and we just moved on to the next play. we knew what we could do. When we got back out there, we played like we know how to play."

3. Duke continues to show that it could be one of the best offensive teams in the country this year.

Freshman standout Jahlil Okafor finished the game with 24 points on 12-of-14 shooting. As well as he’s played this year, that is not only a career-high for him in his young career — it is also the first time ANY Duke player this season has scored over 20 points.

"This is the first game that (Okafor) had over 20. That doesn’t mean that he’s been playing poorly — it means that we’ve been sharing the ball," Krzyzewski said. "I think that’s a good thing. That’s a very good thing. I hope we can keep doing it, where we’re that unselfish."

Duke had 24 assists on 38 field goals, and rather than the guards taking a ton of shots, they kept getting the ball inside, passing the ball until they found exactly the shot they wanted. Generally, that shot was either Okafor or fellow forward Amile Jefferson (who finished with 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting). But the shots were almost always good looks.

Duke’s offense wasn’t always a work of art during this recent road stint, but the Blue Devils showed that they are willing to work for good shots, and that their talent might just be a little bit better than yours — particularly when it starts to develop a little bit more (a scary thought in its own right).

Even with all the young talent on this roster, it was easy for the freshmen to adjust, Allen said.

"All the guys are unselfish coming in. When there’s that unselfish atmosphere, if you’re being selfish, you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb," Allen said. "So it’s an easy adjustment."

54 — Duke had 54 points in the paint. Furman had 54 points, total. Oh, and Duke made 27-of-37 two-point baskets.

26 — The Blue Devils have done well seemingly year after year is make opponents pay for mistakes, and Duke turned Furman’s 14 turnovers into 26 points.