Duke vs Belmont Recap
Austin Rivers will be fine, and Belmont is the truth.
In what is the most anticipated debut by a college freshman since John Wall stepped foot on campus at Kentucky, Duke’s Austin Rivers has generated the same type of buzz leading up to his debut last night against Belmont. “Sub-Zero” finished his high school career as the top player in SLAMonline’s Fresh 75 for 2011 and with over 5 million views on YouTube, so it doesn’t take a genius to understand why there was so much anticipation. The star-studded lineup in attendance backed that up, too.
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni was the surprise celeb in attendance. His USA Basketball hookup with Coach K scored him better seats than Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Now that’s some juice right there. Warriors star Steph Curry was in the building fresh off of dropping a triple double in the We Believe Charity game, sitting right next to former No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft and Duke star Jay Williams. Mix in a number of out of work NBA scouts, and you had quite the atmosphere for opening night in college basketball.
As I’m sure most of you have seen by now, Duke narrowly escaped with a 77-76 dub. Belmont was a problem with their methodical ball movement, perfectly executed backdoor cuts, and patience on the offense. They even threw in a bit of a run and jump press in the second half that caused a number of Duke turnovers. A HUGE three pointer by Andre Dawkins late in the game proved to be the biggest play for the Blue Devils, who nailed a number of timely free throws down the line.
Here are a few of the key observations we took away from Duke’s scare against Belmont:
Austin Rivers will be fine. Looking at the box score, 16 points with 1 assist and 5 turnovers doesn’t look great. Well, it’s wasn’t a great performance by the nation’s top incoming freshman. But the impact that he made upon the game extended far beyond the box score.
The Orlando native drew 11 fouls by our count and you could honestly see one of Belmont’s big men slide over two steps in the paint before he even made a move, in anticipation of Austin smoking his man off the bounce. There were a couple of moments where he forced the issue and settled for a bad shot or turned the ball over, but those are the growing pains that you’re going to have with any 18-year-old kid who is the star of your team from the time that he steps foot on campus.
Apparently Rivers’ body language was looking quite bad on ESPN2, but really didn’t look too bad in person. Honestly, I was impressed by the fact that he didn’t come into things chucking up contested threes and really showed an improved poise and understanding for shot selection. It was evident that there’s going to be a bit of transition period, but SLAMonline will be on hand to watch the second game of the process today against Presbytarian.
Belmont is the truth. Honestly, they should have won the game. The Bruins outplayed Duke in virtually every facet of the game and had they not 0-7 from beyond the arc in the first half, they very likely would have walked out of Cameron with a victory that they’d be telling their grandchildren about.
Senior point guard Drew Hanlen was the victim of hazing by the Cameron Crazies about his generously listed height of 5-11, but is everything you can ask for out of a point guard at that level with his unselfishness and gritty play. Combo guard Kerron Johnson led the team with 6 assists and made a number gorgeous reads off of ball screens. Throw in a pair of legit big men in Scott Saunders and Mick Hedgepeth and you’ll see why I’m fairly confident that they should breeze through the Atlantic Sun this season en route to the Big Dance.
Mason Plumlee may be the most talented big man in the ACC. Any time you have a near 7-footer who can get a rebound, help you break a press, then finish with a dunk in less than 10 seconds, you know you’re working with something special. At 6-11 and 230 pounds, Mason Plumlee looked like he’s finally ready to come into his own after two seasons where he showed glimpses of brilliance with spurts of mediocrity.
Finishing with a ridiculous stat line of 13 points, 14 boards and 6 assists, it’s easy to see why onlookers were quite optimistic about the junior taking the next level this upcoming season. There will certainly be bumps in the road (as seen by Plumlee’s shaky man-to-man D vs Belmont), but if the junior keeps playing like this, expect to see him solidify himself as a lottery pick for next June’s NBA Draft.
Who will Duke’s starting point guard ultimately become? Throughout the game, Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton all spent time running the show. With 19 turnovers and only 14 assists, it was obvious to anyone who saw the game that the biggest obstacle that the Blue Devils will have to overcome will be who initiates the offense once conference play rolls around.
Austin Rivers and Seth Curry are both much better utilized as scorers off of the ball, while 2011 McDonald’s All-American Quinn Cook is still coming off an injury. I personally felt that the team ran best when junior Tyler Thornton had the ball in his hands. He showed poise down the stretch, picked the right spots to put it up, and played tough D.
Regardless of who you like out of the group, Duke will have to get this situation taken care of if they hope to raise another banner.