DURHAM, N.C. — If Duke is going to win a second straight national championship, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are going to need help.
The rest of the Blue Devils came through and Duke win a third straight ACC tournament title. They’ll have to keep it going to make another deep run in the NCAA tournament.
The improved play of Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek down the stretch last year was a major reason Duke could march to its fourth national championship.
This year, the Blue Devils are hoping big men Miles and Mason Plumlee, swingman Ryan Kelly and guard Seth Curry can give them more options than just their high-scoring senior duo.
“You see Miles grow so much and Mason as well, and with that, our offense is going to continue to grow,” Kelly said. “Guys are finishing well around the basket, making good moves and as our teammates see the confidence is growing, they’re looking to get us involved more.”
Duke (30-4) is the No. 1 seed in the West Regional and begins tournament play Friday against 16th-seeded Hampton in Charlotte.
Many of the headlines have gone to Smith and Singler, two-thirds of the “Big Three” — along with Jon Scheyer — who last year carried Duke through the bracket and to Indianapolis, where they claimed a 61-59 win over Butler in the title game.
Singler was named the most outstanding player at the Final Four, and this year, Smith blossomed into the Atlantic Coast Conference’s player of the year, its leading scorer, the MVP of the league tournament and a legitimate candidate for national player of the year honors.
They make up the highest-scoring duo in the ACC, with Smith averaging 21.3 points and Singler contributing 17.1.
But earlier this season, Smith hinted that some of the other players seemed to yield much of the scoring burden to him and to Singler, saying “that’s not how we want to win games.” In the regular-season-ending loss to rival North Carolina that gave the top seed in the ACC tournament to the Tar Heels, the trio of Kelly and the Plumlees combined nine points on 4-of-15 shooting.
With the ACC tournament title on the line, each stepped up to make key contributions. Those three combined for 24 points on 11-of-16 shooting against North Carolina’s tough front line. Curry and Kelly each hit critical 3s down the stretch to help thwart the Tar Heels’ attempts to claw back into the game.
That’s exactly the kind of production they need to make a similar run in the NCAA bracket.
“It was huge. When you can get other guys involved, get other people going, it helps out,” Mason Plumlee said. “They end up playing better defense, they end up rebounding better. So you’ve just got to get guys touches sometimes and get them going.”