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.”
Jan 26, 2015, 8:00 PM EST
The son of a former NBA veteran is moving on to a CAA program from Wake Forest.
Jan 26, 2015, 6:54 PM EST
Washington loses one of the most talented shot blockers in the nation.
Jan 26, 2015, 6:16 PM EST
DePaul may have to reschedule their trip to Providence.
Jan 26, 2015, 6:00 PM EST
Not a lot going on Monday night, but still some great games to check out.
Jan 26, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Maryland grabs an impact point guard in the 2016 class.
Jan 26, 2015, 3:52 PM EST
Johnson landed awkwardly against Ohio State and may have to miss some time.
Jan 26, 2015, 2:03 PM EST
Don’t be surprised if there is only one unbeaten left by this time next week.
Jan 26, 2015, 12:49 PM EST
A recap of the nine craziest finishes from your college hoops weekend.
Jan 26, 2015, 10:28 AM EST
Frankamp spent a little more than a year at Kansas before transferring.
Jan 26, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
The best players and most impressive teams from the last week of college hoops.
Jan 26, 2015, 6:54 AM EST
We have a new member in our Top Ten.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:35 PM EST
Northwestern has lost its last three games by a total of five points.
Jan 25, 2015, 9:36 PM EST
Lucas Siewert joins small forward Brendan Bailey as Arizona State’s second four-star verbal commitment in the 2016 class.
Jan 25, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
Eight days after attempting 25 three-pointers in their loss to No. 5 Duke, the Cardinals attempted just 12 and scored 40 points in the paint against Pittsburgh.
Three-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining completes second-half rally for No. 20 Northern Iowa (VIDEO)
Jan 25, 2015, 6:24 PM EST
UNI erased a 12-point second half deficit to win at Illinois State, and they remain a game behind No. 14 Wichita State in the Missouri Valley standings.
Jan 25, 2015, 5:38 PM EST
Chris Perry leads the Bulls in rebounding, and chest pains suffered during the team’s workout Saturday resulted in his having to be hospitalized.
Jan 25, 2015, 5:09 PM EST
Also of note on Sunday was Ohio State picking up its first RPI Top 50 win of the season, and both No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 13 Maryland coming back from double-digit deficits.
Jan 25, 2015, 4:13 PM EST
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski picked up career win No. 1,000 as the No. 5 Blue Devils bested St. John’s.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:30 PM EST
Well-traveled former Ole Miss guard Derrick Millinghaus has found a new home.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:21 PM EST
Kentucky is on the board in the 2016 class with a highly-touted big man from New Zealand.
- Washington kicks talented shot blocking big man off the team 0
- Tracking The Unbeatens: Virginia’s difficult schedule, and why were Kentucky’s platoons created? 2
- Weekly Awards: D’Angelo Russell’s ascension, Kansas takes the next step 1
- College Basketball Talk’s Latest Top 25 1
- Coach K earns career win No. 1,000 in No. 5 Duke’s win over St. John’s 4
- Kentucky lands commitment from international Class of 2016 big man 4
- Saturday’s Snacks: No. 18 West Virginia, Georgetown win absolute thrillers 0
- No. 6 Wisconsin utterly embarrassed No. 25 Iowa for more than one reason (13)
- The Top Ten Players that Coach K has had at Duke (13)
- You think college basketball is unwatchable this year? Turn on an Indiana game (7)
- You Make The Call: Was this a charge on TaShawn Thomas? (VIDEO) (5)
- Player of the Year Power Rankings: Jahlil Okafor, Frank Kaminsky are still 1-2 (5)