Quinn Cook

Duke holds off VCU to advance to Battle 4 Atlantis final

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Duke handled the “havoc” VCU pressure and escaped the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis with a 67-58 win.

Mason Plumlee had 17 points and 10 assists to led the way for Duke. He also helped break the Rams’ full court pressure defense. VCU missed six consecutive free throws (two of them were the front-end of a one-and-one) when the Rams trailed the Blue Devils 56-50 for a scoreless stretch that lasted nearly three and a half minutes.

But the biggest factor in Friday night’s game was the play of Duke sophomore point guard Quinn Cook and Duke’s ability to limit turnovers.

In the quarterfinals against Memphis, VCU’s havoc pressure forced 22 turnovers, but against Duke, the Rams could only come away with eight. Duke was rushed at moments, but for the most part kept composure, kept the floor spread and most importantly got to the line, where they shot 24-of-27.

Cook’s play in the last possession of the first half and the initial run of the second half was the turning point for the Blue Devils. Cook to a tough right-handed layup that banked in to give Duke a 29-28 lead going into halftime. To begin the second half, the first nine points for Duke came off passes from Cook.

On the first play, Cook was able to find Plumlee at the hoop for an easy bucket. Later in transition, Cook took a lead pass from Rasheed Sulaimon and like a hot potato quickly got rid of it to Plumlee for the alley-oop. Duke started off the half on a 15-4 run to open the lead to 44-32.

VCU came back, gaining momentum, cutting the lead to 54-50 with a Juvonte Reddic layup with over nine minutes to play. Cook scored on a layup from Plumlee to make it 56-50 and that’s when the free throw woes began for VCU. At the time the Rams were 10-of-11 from the line, but six straight free throws clanked off the rim at a crucial moment of the game. Following Cook’s layup at 8:18, Duke didn’t score again until a pair of Seth Curry’s free throws at 4:58 remaining.

What Duke did was it took away two of VCU’s strengths. Duke only coughed the ball up eight times – three were from Cook, who had a game-high nine assists. The Blue Devils defense also didn’t let the Rams connect from deep, only shooting four-of-20 from behind the arc.

Duke got 15 points from Curry, with Sulaimon adding 12. Cook scored nine points. VCU was led by Reddic’s double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds.

Duke plays the winner of Missouri-Louisville.

Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the NBCSports.com Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.