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 27, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
The NCAA is considering moving the shot clock to 30 seconds in men’s basketball.
Apr 27, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
Florida guard Eli Carter will transfer.
Apr 27, 2015, 6:08 PM EDT
Duke picked up its second major commitment in recent weeks with the addition of five-star wing Brandon Ingram.
Apr 27, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT
Here’s seven takeaways from a busy weekend at the three shoe company events.
Apr 27, 2015, 5:22 PM EDT
Brandon Ingram is a top five recruit in the class.
Apr 27, 2015, 3:37 PM EDT
Tatum might be the best player in the Class of 2016.
Apr 27, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT
It will feature a preseason top five team.
Apr 27, 2015, 12:48 PM EDT
Who were the biggest losers of the early entry deadline?
Apr 27, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Which potential draft picks returning to school will be the most influential in 2015-16?
Apr 27, 2015, 10:17 AM EDT
Hatch is one of the most inspirational people you will ever hear about
Apr 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
The return of Buddy Hield pushes previously unranked Oklahoma into our way too early rankings.
Apr 27, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Who’s going pro? Who’s returning to school? Who are we still waiting to hear from?
Apr 26, 2015, 8:45 PM EDT
Collins averaged 7.1 points and 5.2 assists per game last season, and his arrival could lead to Alex Caruso getting more scoring opportunities off the ball.
Apr 26, 2015, 7:35 PM EDT
Robinson has quite the rebuilding job on his hands, but guard LeAntwan Luckett (16.3 ppg) is one of the team’s top four scorers who have eligibility remaining.
Apr 26, 2015, 7:05 PM EDT
Dominic Green was released from his National Letter of Intent to Arizona State a couple weeks ago.
Apr 26, 2015, 6:02 PM EDT
In addition to making graduates sit out a year, there’s also consideration of the idea that schools can restrict where they can go.
Apr 26, 2015, 4:05 PM EDT
Nick Noskowiak joins former Arkansas guard Nick Babb as players who have committed to Iowa State this month.
Apr 26, 2015, 2:29 PM EDT
Skinner was the longtime coach of Boston College.
Apr 26, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Avery Johnson is touring with Nick Saban to get more familiar with being a head coach at Alabama.
UAA Day 2: The return of Seventh Woods; Markelle Fultz is the real deal; Josh Jackson’s up-and-down day
Apr 26, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
The Under Armour Association has plenty of talented players in its league this season, including former mixtape star Seventh Woods and the No. 1 player in the Class of 2016, Josh Jackson.
- Duke lands five-star Class of 2015 wing Brandon Ingram 1
- College basketball’s seven biggest early entry losers for the 2015-2016 season 1
- College basketball’s six biggest early entry winners for the 2015-2016 season 3
- Austin Hatch’s inspirational basketball career has come to a close 3
- UPDATED: 2015-2016 College Basketball Way-Too-Early Preseason Rankings 1
- 2015 College Basketball Updated Early Entry List 14
- Report: Yogi Ferrell to return to Indiana for senior season 0
- Duke lands commitment from elite PG Derryck Thornton, who will reclass (18)
- 2015 College Basketball Updated Early Entry List (14)
- UPDATED: 2015-2016 College Basketball Way-Too Early Preseason Top 25 (9)
- Louisville adds key grad transfer Damion Lee (6)
- Arizona forward Stanley Johnson enters 2015 NBA Draft (3)