Dec 19, 2013, 9:24 PM EDT
NEW YORK — There was nothing memorable about the shot.
It was one of six threes that No. 8 Duke made and one of 18 that they hoisted up in the first half of their 80-63 win over UCLA on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden. It was the kind of play that gets taught to basketball players the minute they’re able to reach the rim from the three-point line, the kind of drive-and-kick action that we’ve seen out of a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team thousands of times over the years.
As Quinn Cook penetrated to the middle of UCLA’s zone, drawing the attention Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford, he got Rasheed Sulaimon all kinds of space on the left wing. As Cook let the pass go, he knew what this shot meant for Sulaimon, what it could potentially mean for the Blue Devils.
Before the ball even reach Sulaimon’s hands, Cook knew it was buckets.
“You’re back,” he said. “You’re back.”
“Before I even let it go,” a beaming Sulaimon said in the locker room after the game. “That kinda helped me a little bit. When I made it, I just looked at him. It was a big weight lifted off my shoulders.”
“I was kind of nervous when I took it.”
There’s no surprise there.
A bad spell.
For weeks, something had been going on with No. 8 Duke’s sophomore shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon. You can call it whatever you want, but the bottom line is that it’s been more than a month since Rasheed Sulaimon was a relevant factor in Duke’s lineup. He scored 33 points in the Blue Devils’ first two games of the year, but in the eight games between then entering Thursday night’s date with UCLA, Sulaimon had averaged 3.0 points. He made just two of his last 16 shots from the floor. He was shooting 20% since the Champions Classic. Against Michigan, he never set foot on the court. Against Gardner-Webb, he played five scoreless minutes.
Like I said, a non-factor. And if it wasn’t for Rodney Hood being a step late to try and take a change on Jordan Adams with 9:32 left in the half, picking up his second foul, there’s no guarantee that would have changed against UCLA. Duke had already gone through their off-guard rotation. Andre Dawkins came in for Tyler Thornton at the 15:00 mark. Matt Jones got on the floor a couple of minutes later, and both were on the bench when Thornton checked back into the game with 9:57 on the clock.
Hood picked up his second foul 25 seconds later, and 47 seconds after that, Cook found Sulaimon for that three.
The box score won’t blow you away. Sulaimon finished with eight points, five boards and four assists. He played 18 minutes and shot 3-for-7 from the floor. He turned the ball over twice. In any other circumstance, this would have been a disappointing performance for a kid that was considered a potential lottery pick entering the season.
It wasn’t even a great performance from Sulaimon given the circumstances, but there was a noticeable change in Sulaimon’s play. He was more aggressive. He looked more confident. He missed four of his next five shots after knocking down that first jumper, but he didn’t stop attacking. He didn’t stop shooting when he was open. Eventually, it paid off. Sulaimon hit a three with just over two minutes left to give the Blue Devils a 74-63 lead. He fought off two Bruins to track down a loose ball at the other end of the floor on the ensuing possession, following that up with a beautiful drive-and-dish, getting a layup for Amile Jefferson that put the win on ice.
“It’s the best he’s played this year,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game, and that’s terrific news for the Blue Devils. They don’t need Sulaimon to contend for an ACC title. Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook is enough to get them into the conversation. With Tyler Thornton, Andre Dawkins and Matt Jones all on the roster, Coach K has enough pieces at that off-guard spot to make things work. If he needs shooting, he’s got Dawkins. If he needs a defender, he’s got Thornton. If he needs a guy that can do a little bit of both, he’s got Jones.
The difference with Sulaimon is that he can shoot and he can defend, but he’s by far the most talented off-guard that Duke has. He’s the best penetrator on the roster, according to Cook. He brings a different dynamic to the Blue Devil attack. He just needed to be willing to buy into the role that he was given. No one is building an offense around Sulaimon when Parker and Hood are on the roster as well.
Sulaimon needed to see rock bottom, and taking a DNP-CD on national television in Duke’s biggest win of the season to date — the Michigan game — is a good way to do that.
“He has been practicing well the last two weeks and it paid off,” Coach K said. “I was so happy he hit that big shot to put us up 74-63.”
He wasn’t alone.
At the next timeout, following Sulaimon’s game-clinching sequence, he was mobbed by his teammates at half court. In the locker room after the game, he got a bear hug from assistant coach Jeff Capel. After exiting that embrace, Sulaimon walked straight into the waiting arms of Jon Scheyer, who hugged him and slapped him on the back as he yelled “Yessir!”
“I just want to thank those guys for helping me through the tough times,” Sulaimon said.
So much for the doghouse.
“He’s out,” Rodney Hood said. “He’s officially out.”
Apr 19, 2014, 1:25 PM EDT
Gonzaga will have a very tough non-conference slate during the 2014-15 season.
Apr 19, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT
Two-and-through sounds more and more likely to happen.
Apr 19, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
Former Marquette commits Ahmed Hill and Satchel Pierce are following former Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams to Virginia Tech as the duo committed to the Hokies on Saturday morning.
POSTERIZED: SMU commit Emmanuel Mudiay flushes a ridiculous alley-oop during Jordan Brand Classic (VIDEO)
Apr 19, 2014, 10:03 AM EDT
SMU commit Emmanuel Mudiay put down the best dunk at the Jordan Brand Classic.
Apr 18, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
Northern Illinois extended the contract of head coach Mark Montgomery through the 2017-18 season.
Chicago duo Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander earn MVP honors as East beats West in Jordan Brand Classic
Apr 18, 2014, 9:39 PM EDT
Chicago natives Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander earned MVP honors as the East beat the West in the Jordan Brand Classic.
Apr 18, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT
Houston is allowing Danuel House and TaShawn Thomas to transfer, but only to certain programs.
Apr 18, 2014, 7:31 PM EDT
Indiana grabbed a commitment from a 2014 center on Friday night.
Apr 18, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT
Miami forward James Kelly is moving on.
Apr 18, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT
It was a busy day for the Butler Bulldogs on Friday as freshman guard Elijah Brown intends to transfer while former Indiana wing Austin Etherington will transfer to the Big East program.
Apr 18, 2014, 5:05 PM EDT
Ole Miss picked up a big graduate transfer on Friday when former Tennessee State forward M.J. Rhett signed with the Rebels.
Apr 18, 2014, 4:44 PM EDT
St. John’s received some big news this week as sophomore center Chris Obekpa decided to stay in New York.
Apr 18, 2014, 4:26 PM EDT
Kentucky freshman forward Marcus Lee will return to Lexington for his sophomore season.
Apr 18, 2014, 4:03 PM EDT
After leading Georgia State to 25 wins and a Sun Belt regular season title, Ron Hunter has been rewarded with a contract extension.
Apr 18, 2014, 3:46 PM EDT
With Steve Wojciechowski accepting the head coaching position at Marquette, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski announced how he would account for that departure Friday.
Apr 18, 2014, 2:49 PM EDT
Tulsa has officially hired Frank Haith to be its new basketball coach.
Apr 18, 2014, 1:39 PM EDT
Arizona State announced Friday that guard Shaquielle McKissic has been granted an extra season of eligibility by the NCAA.
Apr 18, 2014, 1:03 PM EDT
Duke’s Rodney Hood made the news official Friday, announcing that he’ll be entering the 2014 NBA Draft.
Apr 18, 2014, 12:48 PM EDT
Family and friends of Lacey Holsworth gathered at the Breslin Center to celebrate her life on Thursday.
Apr 18, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Kansas will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the DeBruce Center on May 2nd.
- NCAA council aims to change immediate eligibility waiver policy 0
- Reports: Missouri’s Frank Haith agrees to take the Tulsa job 11
- Kentucky’s James Young to enter the NBA Draft 0
- Jabari Parker is headed to the NBA 7
- It’s beyond time for college basketball to return to NBA’s early entry calendar 0
- Former Alabama player Devonta Pollard receiving interest from Kentucky 2
- 2014 NBA Draft: What early entry decisions are we still waiting for? 0
- #UMassUnited: Thousands show to support Derrick Gordon during Westboro Baptist Church protest (16)
- NCAA approves unlimited meals and snacks for Division I student-athletes (11)
- Reports: Missouri’s Frank Haith agrees to take the Tulsa job (11)
- Report: Cuonzo Martin to become the new head coach at California (10)
- Cuonzo Martin and Tennessee parting ways is good for everyone involved (9)