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.”
Jul 4, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Mathiang’s playing on an Australian team that includes the likes of Peter Hooley and Hugh Greenwood.
Jul 4, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
The 6-foot-9 Henry averaged 6.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game last season.
Jul 4, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT
Jalen Brunson led the way with 30 points for the United States, which plays Croatia Sunday.
Jul 4, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Miles Bridges is one of the better scorers in the 2016 class.
Jul 4, 2015, 2:15 PM EDT
The US is taking on the hosts in the semifinals, with the winner getting Croatia on Sunday.
Jul 4, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Four players from 2015 NCAA tournament programs are trying out for the Canadian national team.
Jul 4, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Kansas won its debut overseas this summer as Wayne Selden had a big outing.
Jul 4, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT
UConn landed a quality guard in the Class of 2016.
Jul 4, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Given Oregon’s many perimeter options, minutes were likely to be at a premium for Rorie in 2015-16.
Jul 3, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
The top four players remain the same.
Jul 3, 2015, 9:19 PM EDT
The redshirt junior has not played since January 2014.
Jul 3, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
The rising sophomore was originally being blocked from transferring to 55 schools.
Jul 3, 2015, 6:08 PM EDT
Ohio State begins its 2017 class with a local product.
Jul 3, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Jalen Brunson led USA Basketball with 17 points.
Jul 3, 2015, 2:10 PM EDT
A lot of unranked players made their way into the top five in a surprisingly deep class.
Jul 3, 2015, 1:40 PM EDT
Jalen Brunson led four Americans in double figures with 17 points.
Jul 3, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
Minnesota is one of four schools the 6-foot-10 center is reportedly considering.
Jul 3, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
The lone school to host the Georgia native on an official visit is considered to be the favorite in this recruiting race.
Jul 2, 2015, 7:40 PM EDT
Oregon still has a date to fill (December 29), which the school expects to be filled by an in-state opponent.
- Re-ranking the recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players in the Class of 2008? 1
- Re-ranking the recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players in the Class of 2007? 0
- Re-ranking the recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players from the Class of 2006? 0
- Re-ranking recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players from the Class of 2005? 1
- Re-ranking recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players from the Class of 2004? 2
- Bo Ryan to retire from Wisconsin after next season 4
- Who are the names to watch for the 2016 NBA Draft? 2
- Bo Ryan to retire from Wisconsin after next season (4)
- South Carolina coach Frank Martin releases statement, asks for confederate flag removal (3)
- UCLA lands four-star center, second 2017 commitment (3)
- So what happened to the chair Bobby Knight threw in 1985? (3)
- Flooding from storm damages Denver’s practice floor (PHOTOS) (3)