With his back to the basket, senior forward Eitan Chemerinski gave a slight head fake. Mason Plumlee’s feet left the ground for a brief moment, and Duke’s 6’10” 235-pound senior forward was fooled. Chemerinski craftily laid the ball in under his outstretched arm, cutting Duke’s lead to four with just under four minutes to go in the half.
Though Chemerinski’s fourth and final point may have successfully silenced the 9,000 fans in Cameron Indoor Stadium, this was as close as the Red would come. Though the squad did cling to a four point lead in the early goings, the No. 1 ranked team in the country did not look back after Chemerinski’s layup, surging to a 9-2 run to end the half and 17 unanswered points to start the second.
“It was a tough environment,” said senior guard Johnathan Gray. “The fans heckle you a little bit, it’s very loud and hard to hear ourselves on the court and a little bit tougher trying to hear signals from the bench.”
Plagued by turnovers in the second half, the Red ended up falling, 88-47. Cornell coughed the ball up 26 times, leading to 35 points off turnovers for the Blue Devils.
“We got ourselves into a hole [in the second half] due to our turnovers, and with a team like that they can capitalize so quickly,” Gray said.
Normally a strong point for the team, the Red was also a dismal 1-11 from beyond the arc, with the only triple coming from senior guard Dominick Scelfo late in the second half.
Despite being outplayed in the second half by a much bigger and more physical Duke team, the Red was able to come away with some positives.
“It was a great experience. They are a talented team, so I think it was pretty encouraging that we were able to play well against them in the first half,” Chemerinski said.
“We came in there to win,” Gray said. “We honestly went in there believing we could come out with an upset if we played hard and aggressive. We didn’t go in trying to be timid, I think we came out hard and taking that into consideration if we go in to every game with the same mentality we will be successful.”
The triple threat of Plumlee and guards Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon — coupled with Quinn Cook’s impeccable passing — proved too much for the Red defense in the second half. When the Red was able to play the up-tempo style of basketball that has proven successful so far this season, the squad was able to contain the Blue Devils, who only scored two more points off fast break opportunities. However, in the half court set, Duke had a clear advantage.
“They are such a very good team,” said head coach Bill Courtney. “The things they want to get out of that group, it’s unbelievable. They just executed well and made every right play. Plumlee is just a load, the emergence of Quinn Cook … he’s been the guy who has taken them to the next level.”
Plumlee had 18 points and nine rebounds on the day — just shy of a double-double — while Cook tallied 12 assists. Curry and Sulaimon combined for an additional 36 points.
Much of the Red’s first half run came on the back of sophomore forward Shonn Miller. Miller had 14 points and six rebounds, holding his own on the block against Plumlee and Duke forwards Ryan Kelly and Josh Hairston. Sophomore guard Devin Cherry also provided a spark off the bench, chipping in five points and showing off his fleet-footed spin moves in the open court. Senior guard Miles Asafo-Adjei had a strong offensive game, putting up six points on 3-5 shooting while dishing out three assists.
In just the fourth meeting with a No. 1 ranked team in school history, the Red was unable to pull off the magical upset. However, playing against future NBA first-round draft picks was valuable for a team expecting to contend for a top spot in the Ivy League come February.
“Our guys responded very well to playing in that environment,” Courtney said. “It was a great experience for us either way it turned out.”