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Duke knocks off Kentucky 75-68 in action in Atlanta / November 14, 2012
No. 9 Duke knocked off third-ranked Kentucky, 75-68, in early season college basketball action Tuesday night in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

The Blue Devils (2-0) and Wildcats (1-1) delivered a remarkable early season effort in an NCAA tournament-style atmosphere. 22,847 showed up for the bottom half of the State Farm Champions Classic, which also featured a narrow 67-64 win by no. 21 Michigan State over no. 7 Kansas.

The Blue Devils have some question marks this season, but Mike Krzyzewski’s club posted an impressive win over the defending national champions, who suffered personnel losses to the NBA. The Wildcats have some amazing athletic talent, however, and John Calipari will make them better. It seems likely Kentucky, which barely scratched past Maryland last week, has the talent and athletic prowess to return to the Final Four.

Four Blue Devils finished in double figures, in a much stronger overall effort than the season opener. Seth Curry made some significant offensive moves down the stretch and finished with 23 points on seven-of-14 field goal shooting, including three-of-five from the bonusphere. Mason Plumlee eventually fouled out, but had a terrific outing, going seven-of-eight from the field, as he had 18 points, three assists, two blocks, a steal and three rebounds.

Ryan Kelly and rookie Rasheed Sulaimon had ten points apiece, and Josh Hairston provided a key lift off the offensive glass with five points and five boards in 14 minutes.

A major key was Duke’s ability to stay in charge even as Mason Plumlee had to sit key stretches due to foul trouble. Plumlee, expected to be a critical leader for the Blue Devils this season, was limited to 29 minutes.

Kentucky failed to attack Duke as effectively as the Wildcats might have, especially with Plumlee limited by foul trouble. Alex Poythress had some sparkling offensive moments and led the defending NCAA champs with 20 points, but Kentucky missed opportunities down the stretch to rekindle critical momentum.

Duke did a good job with the 3-pointer, connecting on eight-of-18, while the Wildcats were four of ten. Kentucky also had a so-so effort in ball security, finishing with 13 assists and 13 turnovers.

Duke bolted to a 14-point lead with 9:25 left in the second half, sparked by a Sulaimon 3-pointer, and still led by 12 on a Plumlee layup with 8:27 left. The Wildcats later cut the Duke lead to five on a 3-pointer by Julius Mays with 4:56 left in the contest. Quinn Cook missed from 3-point range and Curry misfired on a jumper, and Kentucky’s Archie Goodwin drained a layup to get the ‘Cats within one possession, trailing by three, 64-61, with 3:29 left.

But Duke held serve, draining seven of eight free throws in the final 2:04. Curry also made a strong move to the hoop for a key layup with 1:09 left, giving the Blue Devils a 68-63 lead.

“Hairston’s play was really critical. Those two offensive rebound buckets were really big. In the first half, Quinn Cook gave us a lift. He scored in transistions, and it was difficult for us to score in the half court in the first half.” Then, in the second half, “Seth’s play was the key factor. He’s been hurt, so he hasn’t practiced very much,” Krzyzewski said.

But Curry did a good job and was able to use his ability to get opposing defenders to commit and get out of position on defense.

“My teammates did a good job finding me early in the game, because they haven’t been around me as much as I usually am in practice,” said Curry.

Duke had some strong defensive moments, but it’ll be interesting to see just how much better this season-led team will be. Krzyzewski dismissed some Calipari carping over alleged Duke flopping on charge calls.

“I would hope that anybody who watches the game would say our kids really played outstanding defense and were there to take charges.”

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