Great leaders thrive when they’re faced with adversity and that’s just what the Duke Blue Devils were facing on Wednesday night in Chapel Hill.
Duke’s depth was already limited heading into the game and the Blue Devils suffered a major blow in the first half against the Tar Heels when starting guard Matt Jones left the game with an ankle injury.
Then midway through the second half Marshall Plumlee picked up his fourth foul with the game in doubt right in the midst of Brice Johnson (29 points, 19 rebounds) slicing up Duke’s interior defense each time he touched the ball.
None of that mattered.
Duke was simply tougher than North Carolina down the stretch where it mattered most — in between the ears.
And that’s a reflection upon their leader.
The Blue Devils got a huge lift off the bench from Luke Kennard (15 points) to go with a combined 43 points from Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram en route to a puzzling 74-73 victory.
Why was it puzzling?
Because the Tar Heels’ half-court offense down the stretch was non-existent.
Because Duke essentially only had five players to use in the second along with little used freshman big man Chase Jeter.
It made zero sense that the Blue Devils emerged victorious on the road.
Except when you consider the intangibles that this team showed during the second half.
It was vintage Coach K.
Would you expect anything else at this point?
Tubby Smith is doing yeoman’s work at Texas Tech
Did Minnesota really part ways with this guy three years ago after he won a game in the NCAA Tournament?
That’s not looking like a wise decision right now.
Smith — one of the best human beings in college basketball — is doing one of the best coaching jobs of his career this season with the Red Raiders and you have to remember this is a guy who won a national title at Kentucky in 1998.
Texas Tech has beaten now beaten Iowa State, Baylor, and Oklahoma in three consecutive games and is 16-9 overall and 6-7 in conference play.
Smith is putting himself into the conversation for Big 12 Coach of the Year with Texas’ Shaka Smart and the Red Raiders are trending towards an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Two more conference victories should put Texas Tech in prime position to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.
Wisconsin steps up a weight class against Michigan State
The Badgers operated with the focus of a surgeon during Saturday’s 13-point win over Maryland in College Park and displayed under interim head coach Greg Gard all the same requisites that made them successful in the Big Ten for a decade and a half under Bo Ryan.
But things will go up to a different level Thursday night in East Lansing.
Wisconsin (16-9) has looked like vintage Wisconsin during its seven-game winning streak, but being competitive on the road against a team like Michigan State (21-5) would only enhance Gard’s already positive perception.
In a season where no teams truly stand out from the rest the Spartans have a coach in Tom Izzo and a player in Denzel Valentine that will make them an awfully trendy pick to do major damage during the NCAA Tournament.
The Badgers were really good when they dominated Maryland in College Park.
They will have to be great to have a chance to beat Michigan State on Thursday night at the Breslin Center.
This Just In
- Mark Turgeon told CBS Sports that Maryland’s Damonte Dodd will start in place of Diamond Stone (suspended) Thursday vs. Minnesota.
- Miami’s Ja’Quan Newton (illness) has been cleared and will be back at practice Thursday, a school spokesman said. Newton is expected to be available for UNC on Saturday.
This and That
- Iowa State had four separate players play 42 minutes or more in Tuesday night’s overtime loss at Baylor. You have to wonder how fresh this team is going to be in March after playing the entire season with a rotation that only featured seven guys.
- Remember when this season was supposed to be a resurrection for SEC basketball? I’m starting to think it’s looking less and less that any team in this league other than Kentucky has a chance to advance to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend. Guess that resurrection talk will have to be put on hold for at least another season.
- Only one of Virginia’s last six opponents has scored more than 60 points. The Cavaliers’ program has been built on one thing under Tony Bennett — defense.
- Butler sophomore Kelan Martin has scored 15 or more points in six consecutive games. This guy will be a household name nationally next season once Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones graduate. An effortless scorer, Martin has great size at 6-foot-6 and has made three or more 3-point shots five separate times this season.
- Cincinnati needs Farad Cobb to get back on track for its stretch run. The 6-1 guard is just a combined 11-38 from the field over his last four games and has to give the Bearcats’ consistent offense it they’re going to play in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive year. Mick Cronin’s squad is Tulsa on Thursday night. Tipoff is at 9 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.
- Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor has 33 assists to just 11 turnovers over his last five games. That’s a three-to-one ratio for those of you keeping score at home. Who would have seen something like this coming in the preseason?
- Former Miami forward James Kelly is putting in work at Marshall. The 6-8 Kelly is leading the Thundering Herd in both scoring (20.4) and rebounding (9.4) while shooting an impressive 55.0 percent from the field.
- One thing I’ve taken away from the Mississippi State games I’ve watched this season: Quinndary Weatherspoon looks like a much better long-term prospect than Malik Newman. And it hasn’t been close.
- UAB’s William Lee is the best shot blocker that no one talks about nationally. The 6-9 sophomore has blocked a combined 14 shots in his last three games is averaging 3.2 blocks each time he takes the floor. Lee played a major role in the Blazers’ upset over Iowa State last March in the NCAA Tournament.
- Another mid-major to keep an eye on for March? Yale. The Bulldogs haven’t lost since Dec. 13 and have won 12 consecutive games. James Jones’ team is 8-0 in the Ivy League and next travels to Princeton on Friday night.