Aaron Craft hit a three. Then William Buford and Craft made layups on back-to-back possessions. Buford followed that up with another layup of his own, and after Duke used their second timeout of the half less than three minutes into the game, Jared Sullinger hit a short jumper.
It was only 3:38 into the much-hyped battle between two of the teams ranked in the top four, but with the score already 11-0, they may as well have called the game at that point.
Duke was able to get within a point on two separate occasions in the next five minutes of game time, but the Blue Devils never tied the game and they never took the lead as they watched — almost literally, based on the lack of effort Duke displayed on the defensive end — Ohio State carve up their defense like a Thanksgiving turkey, taking a 47-28 lead into the break and cruising to an 85-63 win.
The loss was equally embarrassing and impressive, depending on what colors your favorite team wears. Ohio State looked every bit as good as last year’s team. They played like a team that deserves to have their name mentioned with North Carolina and Kentucky when talking about this year’s national title contenders. Blowing out a team ranked in the top four will have that effect on people.
And Duke? Well, all of the flaws that this team possesses were exposed on a national stage. They lack playmakers. Their bigs aren’t physical enough. Their defense would struggle to stop good high school teams.
But how much perspective does the 40 minutes that the Blue Devils and the Buckeyes shared a court give on the season as a whole?
How much weight can we put into a win like this?
Frankly, not a ton.
Look, games like this happen. Don’t believe me? Last year, Duke went into Garden and got pasted by St. John’s 93-78, a game where the final score didn’t indicate just how badly they had been beaten down. That Duke team lost the ACC regular season title on the last day of the regular season, but got their revenge on North Carolina by winning the ACC Tournament. The year before, Duke went into the Verizon Center and got worked by Georgetown, trailing by as much as 21 in the second half, just 10 days after losing to NC State by 14. That Duke team won the national title.
Still need more evidence? Last season, Ohio State, who went into the NCAA Tournament as the favorite to win the national title, beat Wisconsin and Purdue in Columbus by a combined 51 points. The Buckeyes lost to Purdue by 14 at Mackey Arena and blew a 15 point second half lead to Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. The year before, Ohio State lost by 22 at Wisconsin before avenging that loss at home and going on to win a share of the Big Ten regular season title and the Big Ten Tournament title.
Like I said, games like this happen.
The same way that players can be on fire or ice cold, teams have off nights and teams have great nights. And when the visiting team is having an off night while the home team, especially a home team as talented as Ohio State, is having a great night, blowouts happen.
So take this result with a grain of salt.
Ohio State is not as good as they looked on Tuesday. And Duke is not as bad as they played.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from this game:
– On nights when the Buckeyes have their Big Four going, they are going to be extremely difficult to beat. Jared Sullinger had 21 points and eight boards. Aaron Craft went for 17 points, eight assists and five rebounds. DeShaun Thomas had 18 points — including a stretch where he scored 12 straight. And William Buford went for 20 points, five boards and four assists.
– William Buford is as good as any shooting guard in the country. And he’s an NBA player. He comes off of screens so well and he has become a lethal three-point shooter. He’s also a much better passer than anyone gives him credit for.
– While we’re on the subject of passing, what makes Ohio State so dangerous is how well they move the ball offensively. They space the floor and swing the ball incredibly well for a team that has so many quality offensive weapons. They give up good shots to get a great shot as well as any team in the country because they know that on the next possession, their teammate will make the extra pass to get them a wide-open look.
– The Blue Devils are going to go as far as Austin Rivers takes them. He’s the only player on the roster than is capable of creating his own shot, and he’s as good as any player in the country — regardless of age — at using his dribble to create space for himself. He still has plenty to learn, however, and he has to get better at finishing the looks that he creates. That will come with time. But for Duke to be a top ten team, Rivers has to have the kind of impact that Nolan Smith had last season. Rivers finished with 22 points, but he needed 18 shots to do so and finished with just three assists.
– Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins cannot disappear like they did tonight. There’s nothing else to add here. Those two have to be offensive weapons, because they bring very little to the table on the other end of the floor.
– Mason Plumlee continued his excellent play from Maui and looks like he may be the first Plumlee to come close to living up to his potential. But Duke is in trouble is Ryan Kelly is their best option at the four. He’s not physical enough to battle in the paint and he hasn’t shot the ball well enough to be effective as a face-up four.
– The biggest issue with Duke, however, is on the defensive end of the floor. I don’t think its unfair to say that the only starter they have that can even be discussed an above-average defender is Mason Plumlee. If they are going to win, they are going to have to beat teams with a powerful offense based on their three-point shooting. They won’t be doing much of that if Kelly, Curry and Dawkins play the way they did tonight.
– Duke is ranked way to high as the No. 4 team in the country. But don’t ignore who they have already beaten this season — Belmont, Kansas and Michigan. This is still one of the 10 or 15 best teams in the country, and when their threes are falling and Austin Rivers is playing like the all-american he was in high school, they are going to be a tough team to beat.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.