WASHINGTON, D.C. — Duke found themselves locked in a war with N.C. State in the second round of the ACC tournament, a shootout that saw 103 total points scored in the first half and the over-under of 148 obliterated by the nine minute mark.
Marshall Plumlee wasn’t the best player on the floor for the Blue Devils, but he did make the biggest play, grabbing an offensive rebound and scoring an and-one to break an 89-89 team with just over a minute left. Plumlee finished with 17 points and 10 boards.
And one nose that looked like this:
“His nose is broken,” Mike Krzyzrewski said after the game, confirming what anyone with a pulse could figure out by watching the broadcast.
In and of itself, a broken nose to a player like Plumlee is not all that big of a deal. There’s a 50 percent chance that the 7-foot, 250 pound soon-to-be military man doesn’t actually feel pain, because he was back in the game within minutes and, immediately upon checking in, scrapping it up again with bruisers like Abdul-Malik Abu and BeeJay Anya. It’s not like a sprained ankle or a broken hand. He can play through, and while wearing a mask will limit his vision and breathing may become a more difficult task, his effectiveness is going to end up being more or less a pain tolerance kind of a deal.
“To see him come in, he’s got blood dripping down his face, he’s still out there yelling like a maniac, it fires the team up,” Grayson Allen said.
“Marshall’s a tough player,” Matt Jones added. “I’m not worried about his nose because he’s not worried about his nose.”
It does, however, highlight the razor-thin margin for error this Duke team is currently dealing with just like the ankle injury suffered by Jones in the win at North Carolina did. But Plumlee is perhaps the most important player on the Duke roster right now simply because he’s, functionally, the only big man they trust. Chase Jeter’s not ready, Sean Obi’s not good and Amile Jefferson’s not healthy.
And at this point in the season, it’s not just health that matters. It’s their legs. 24 hours after a game that was more or less a track meet, they have to suit up again to game on Notre Dame, who beat Duke 96-91 in regulation earlier this season. Win that, and they most likely get North Carolina for the third time on Friday night. And if they happen to win that game, the Blue Devils are looking at four games in four days less than half a week before they have to play two games in three days in the NCAA tournament, and none of that factors in the inherent fatigue that comes with traveling to the games.
Who knows just how far Duke will end up making it in this ACC tournament, but it’s fair to wonder whether or not this week is a detriment to their hopes of getting to the Final Four. Think about it like this: with Plumlee off getting his nose dealt with and Allen and Brandon Ingram on the dais for postgame press conferences, literally half of Duke’s players were gone when they opened up their locker room to the media.
And therein lies the shame in Jefferson’s injury. If he was healthy, Duke would be able to use a true rotation of their bigs, playing Plumlee and Jefferson for 25 minutes each, giving them both a chance to be rested and play with less of a concern about getting into foul trouble. That would also give the guards a few extra minutes of rest per game, which would likely make the unstoppable trio of Allen, Ingram and Luke Kennard just that much more potent.
With Jefferson, a team with that many guys that are near-unguardable one-on-one would be a serious Final Four contender.
That surely bugs Duke fans.
But the Duke players aren’t thinking about it like that.
All Jones is focused on is one thing for now.
“I don’t want that nose.”