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Kennard, Plumlee help No. 14 Duke survive rebounding troubles

Marshall Plumlee, Sean Obi

Duke center Marshall Plumlee (40) is hugged by forward Sean Obi late in the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. Duke won 91-75. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)


With Devin Thomas doing whatever he wanted in the paint and Wake Forest controlling the boards, No. 14 Duke found itself in a dogfight in Winston Salem Wednesday night. But thanks to some key contributions from the likes of Luke Kennard and Marshall Plumlee, and second-half foul trouble for Thomas, the Blue Devils managed to pull away and win by the final score of 91-75.

Kennard (23 points) and Plumlee (18 points, seven rebounds) combined to score 29 points in the second half, with the latter returning to the court after playing limited minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Both were able to take advantage of a Wake Forest defense that both struggled with dribble penetration and became even softer once Thomas sat down at two critical points in the second half.

The senior’s first noteworthy trip to the bench came with 18:06 remaining, as he followed up his second personal foul with a technical (moving the count to three). Plumlee and Kennard combined to score six of Duke’s next eight points, which allowed the Blue Devils to keep a decent cushion against a team more than capable of pulling off the upset. And when Thomas picked up his fourth foul with eight minutes remaining, that same tandem combined to score 13 of Duke’s next 18 points.

What was once a close contest with both teams capable of winning turned into a comfortable Duke victory, thanks in large part to the contributions of Kennard and Plumlee.

Grayson Allen was efficient in scoring his 24 points, shooting 7-for-10 from the field and dishing out three assists with just one turnover, and Brandon Ingram added 17. At this point in the season contributions of that magnitude are expected of those two. But if Duke is to make a run at an ACC title and play deep into March, they’re going to need consistent production from Plumlee inside. He’s been holding down the fort with Amile Jefferson out due to injury, and with Duke’s lack of depth inside they need the senior 7-footer on the floor as much as possible.

Just as important is the increased productivity (and confidence) of Kennard off the bench. Wednesday marks the fifth time in the last six games that Kennard’s scored in double figures, and his offense off the bench was key with Matt Jones scoring just two points on 1-for-8 shooting.

The rebounding against Wake Forest is a concern, as the Demon Deacons (19 offensive rebounds) grabbed 46.3 percent of their available missed shots and scored 20 second-chance points. Duke’s first-shot defense was solid, but their inability to close out possessions on that end got them in trouble.

Thanks in part to the play of Luke Kennard and Marshall Plumlee, the rebounding struggles did not keep Duke from moving to 2-0 in the ACC.