“Just, when you lose that badly, you don’t feel good for days,’’ the Duke senior forward said Tuesday, obviously not enjoying the process of looking back at his team’s most lopsided loss of the season -- and one of the worst of coach Mike Krzyzewski's career. “You can’t sleep. Winning’s a great feeling, but often losing -- especially that badly -- is worse than the other direction. So it’s got to be all about winning.”
That’s the goal Wednesday night, for both teams. The 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) rematch at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge will not only mark a showdown between two top-five undefeated squads, but two top-five undefeated squads with something to prove.
For No. 2 Duke, it’s about erasing (or at least replacing) the memories of those sleepless nights from a year ago, after OSU began the game with an 11-0 run and never looked back.
For the fourth-ranked Buckeyes, it’s about showing they remain more than worthy of their ranking. While Duke has already been tested this season, beating Minnesota and VCU and notching top-five wins over Kentucky (in Atlanta) and Louisville (in the Bahamas), OSU has not. Ohio State’s quartet of double-digit wins have been over Albany, Rhode Island, Washington and Missouri-Kansas City.
“You go into this game and you’re saying at the conclusion of this game, you’re going to know a lot more about your team," Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said Tuesday. “Road environment … you’re playing a great, great team. So from that perspective, as much as you’re thinking ‘tomorrow night, tomorrow night, tomorrow night,’ you’re thinking long-term as well.”
This will mark OSU’s first trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium, the 9,000-plus construction of craziness where the Blue Devils have won 96 consecutive nonconference games (the longest active streak in the country).
But for all the familiar faces on the court, there are plenty of changes from last year, too.
With star forward Jared Sullinger now playing in the NBA, 6-foot-7 forward Deshaun Thomas (who scored 18 points against Duke a year ago and is averaging 24 ppg this season) has become the Buckeyes’ main offensive threat. Junior point guard Aaron Craft (17 points, 8 assists against Duke last season) continues to lead from the backcourt, while guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. has increased his production to 11.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, Duke has made it a priority to feed senior forward Mason Plumlee (19.7 ppg, 10.0 rpg) in the post since last year’s leading scorer (guard Austin Rivers) turned pro. In addition, senior guard Seth Curry (17 ppg) remains an accurate outside threat and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon (12 ppg) gives the Blue Devils some much-needed height on the wing to better defend the perimeter. And they have a confident point guard in Quinn Cook, who played only 11.7 minutes per game last season but was named MVP of the Battle 4 Atlantis last weekend. He’s now averaging 30.7 minutes per game (along with 5.5 assists and 10.7 points).
"We're a different team," Plumlee said, "and they are, too."
Thus, for all the memories of last season’s blowout, the Blue Devils wouldn’t go quite so far as to call this a "revenge game." Krzyzewski even addressed the subject with the team, Plumlee said, telling them: “If revenge is our only motivation, we’re going to be a terrible team, because we’ll have to lose to everybody to win one.”
But there’s little doubt that there’s extra motivation.
“It’s hard not to have some bad memories … and every day, we’ve got to have something to prove,’’ Kelly said. "And this is another opportunity. We’ve had an unbelievable schedule; we’ve been put in a position where we have to compete every single day … and this is that next step. They’re obviously tremendously talented, and they’re a top-five team, and there’s no question that they’ve earned that. But we believe we’ve earned the position we’re in now as well.”