CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM—After nearly a two week break in their schedule, the No. 7 Blue Devils returned to action at home against Gardner-Webb (6-6), where despite some lapses in communication on the defensive end, great offensive rebounding and another Jabari Parker-led attack helped Duke improve their record to 8-2.
But for one Blue Devil in particular, the struggling Rasheed Sulaimon, things only got worse.
First rule of going to the barbershop: Don’t listen to people in the barbershop. You’ll hear the wildest things from awful relationship advice to badly informed sports chatter. If you believe all of it, you’re in trouble. It’s where I heard a guy in a Georgetown hoodie tell me that he was positive that Sulaimon’s recent slump for the Blue Devils would result in him transferring from Duke. (To be fair to the guy, he’s probably still a little traumatized by former Hoyas forward Greg Whittington’s recent decision to transfer to Rutgers, so maybe he thinks that everyone transfers at one point in their college basketball career.)
Changes in scenery work for some, but Sulaimon belongs at Duke. They need him now and they’ll need him even more when conference play begins. Freshman guard Matt Jones hasn’t turned out to be the shooter he was advertised as, Jabari Parker is spending less time outside the paint, and Dawkins’ shooting sprees, like his 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting last night, haven’t shown up in big games. In Duke’s two losses this year against top-ranked Kansas and Arizona, Dawkins played a total of four minutes and only scored three points. This is where Sulaimon could have stepped in. This is what Duke fans are waiting for.
Still, Sulaimon is having possibly the worst performance stretch of his basketball career, not to mention the rumors that his limited playing time may have some something to do with a violation of team rules and that there’s some competitive tension between him and Jones. But this is just an unfortunate phase for the Houston native, and not many are expecting Sulaimon to follow in the footsteps of redshirt sophomore Alex Murphy, who recently transffered from Duke.
Besides, as Rodney Hood pointed out Monday night after Duke’s 19-point victory, “Everyone knows he [Sulaimon] can play, and he knows he can play…he’s one of the best players on our team.”
It didn’t show against Gardner-Webb. Halfway through the first half, Sulaimon entered the game for the first time, and took a deep sigh that could have been heard from Wallace Wade Stadium. Two minutes later, he airballed a three pointer, was immediately subbed out, and wouldn’t be seen again until late in the second half. Again, he botched a short jumper, was immediately subbed out, and didn’t see the court again until there were only 20 seconds left in the game.
“He’s just not playing well, said Coach K after the game. “You can see it. It’s not about attitude. He’s got a good attitude. He’s a good team player. It’s just not going well for him. It’s kind of like in baseball, one of your really good hitters striking out all the time and just can’t get a hit.”
A couple of out-of-place Tar Heel fans struck out after they managed to sneak a pair of “Free PJ” signs inside Cameron. Against their better judgement, they decided that it was the best venue to garner support for UNC’s PJ Hairston, who’s still doing time on Roy Williams’ bench due to NCAA eligibility concerns. However, it only took a matter of seconds for a one of the signs to be snatched away and torn to pieces by a few Duke fans. The other sign was later confiscated by security.
Sulaimon issues aside, Monday night was a great opportunity to get back in game form before they face No. 22 UCLA on Thursday evening in Madison Square Garden. For this game, look for Sulaimon—the defensive specialist—to be called on to clog the passing lanes and stop UCLA’s guards from attacking the basket.
So, farewell to Murph and good luck to him wherever he ends up. If, in the future, he ever questions his contribution to Duke basketball, he can confidently say that his leaving boosted the Blue Devils’ black player percentage. Because what else is more important than that?
Click here for the full Duke/ Gardner-Webb box score.