Dec 19, 2013, 9:24 PM EST
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.”
Dec 20, 2014, 5:04 PM EST
Mitchell Wilbekin could miss up to six games, and classmates Cornelius Hudson and Rondale Watson missed Saturday’s game for conduct detrimental to the team.
Dec 20, 2014, 4:41 PM EST
It’s already been a busy day in college hoops, with two buzzer-beaters and two ranked teams already going down.
Dec 20, 2014, 4:31 PM EST
Illinois has now won two straight in the series, thanks to Rice’s three-pointer as time expired.
Dec 20, 2014, 3:26 PM EST
Not surprising, considering Gus Johnson is on the call.
Dec 20, 2014, 3:23 PM EST
North Carolina had its most impressive showing of the season in a convincing win over Ohio State on Saturday in Chicago.
Dec 20, 2014, 1:30 PM EST
Josh Jackson put on a show last night. Here’s a mixtape of what he can do.
Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell throws a punch, ejected as tempers flare against Western Kentucky (VIDEOS)
Dec 20, 2014, 12:56 PM EST
Montrezl Harrell ejected for throwing a punch.
Dec 20, 2014, 11:49 AM EST
This will be the first time that Murphy plays this season.
Dec 20, 2014, 11:25 AM EST
He won’t coach against VCU.
Dec 20, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
Kwe Parker might only be a junior in high school, but he’s one of the best leapers in the country.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
If you don’t feel like watching lower-tier bowl games, you’ll be happy to know that Saturday is loaded with great games.
Dec 19, 2014, 11:45 PM EST
Here’s a rundown of Friday night’s action.
Alex Mitola’s buzzer-beater three gives Dartmouth a 58-55 overtime win over Northern Illinois (VIDEO)
Dec 19, 2014, 11:12 PM EST
Alex Mitola ended with 18 points for the Big Green.
Dec 19, 2014, 10:13 PM EST
Eastern Kentucky had 14 threes. Miami had 12 field goals.
Dec 19, 2014, 8:59 PM EST
The senior forward is apparently playing for the Wisconsin Bearcats.
Dec 19, 2014, 7:30 PM EST
Villanova is off to another good start in the regular season, but heading into the New Year, the Wildcats will need to rack up the wins in postseason play.
Dec 19, 2014, 6:49 PM EST
The SMU forward missed the first 10 games.
Dec 19, 2014, 6:15 PM EST
The Gators could be shorthanded once again in Saturday’s non-conference contest with Wake Forest.
Dec 19, 2014, 5:00 PM EST
The Indiana sophomore was struck by a vehicle driven by a teammate back in November.
Dec 19, 2014, 4:15 PM EST
Antravious Simmons averaged 0.7 points and 0.7 rebounds as a redshirt freshman at VCU.
- Late Night Snacks: Villanova survives Syracuse while UNC, SMU get big wins 0
- Markus Kennedy cleared to play immediately for SMU 0
- Weekend Preview: A loaded Saturday slate highlights the weekend 4
- Rebounding, foul shooting help No. 2 Duke make up for 19 turnovers in win over UConn 0
- Michigan State starting forward to miss next two games with non-displaced wrist fracture 0
- Film Session: What’s plaguing Marcus Paige? 1
- Throwback Thursday: UConn ‘Shocks The World’ against Duke (VIDEO) 1
- Gregg Marshall writes to Wichita State students after seeing empty seats in student section (PHOTO) (7)
- Report: David Robinson’s son will be preferred walk-on at Duke in 2015-16 (VIDEO) (6)
- West Virginia’s Bob Huggins torches Marshall after coach calls Huggs ‘afraid’ (5)
- Without Alex Poythress, No. 1 Kentucky’s offense looks comfortable in win over No. 21 North Carolina (4)
- Lauren Hill’s playing career over, to become honorary coach (4)