PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- During a timeout with less than four minutes to go in the first half, Marshall Plumlee ditched the face mask he’d been wearing to protect his broken nose and played like a man liberated, freeing fourth-seeded Duke from a would-be first-round upset at the hands of UNC Wilmington 93-85.
Ordinarily the Duke big man is the seventh offensive option in a seven-man rotation. He is there to do the dirty work and fill a spot where the Blue Devils quite literally have no other choices since Amile Jefferson’s right foot injury.
But the NCAA tournament is all about matchups; those who survive do so by exploiting their advantages, and against UNC Wilmington, Plumlee (7-foot-1, 250 pounds) was Duke’s advantage. The Seahawks’ rotation includes two guys over 6-6, which means the Blue Devils could score at the rim all day and any way they chose.
For the first half, though, they chose not to, with Plumlee a veritable non-factor for 20 minutes and Duke settling for too many jump shots.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski might have suggested Plumlee get involved in the second half. He scored 19 of his 23 points in the final 20 minutes, starting the second half with a block and a snarl on the first possession.
Plumlee also needs to be a guy who stays on the floor. He went to the bench with five fouls with 2:01 left and Duke clinging to an 88-80 lead. The Blue Devils were able to stave off the Seahawks' rally, but things will get a little tougher, and lineups likely a lot bigger, as they advance.