PARADISE ISLAND, BAHAMAS - As it turns out, paradise is full of rough waters, so far.
After cruising to four home victories against lesser opponents to start the season, the Gophers men's basketball team was jolted away from its winning ways on Thanksgiving, when it was simply outdone by No. 5 Duke.
While the Gophers hung just beyond striking distance for most of the game, they never could get over the hump, falling 89-71 in their opening game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
"They showed great stamina and good resilience in making shots like they did," Gophers coach Tubby Smith said of the Blue Devils (4-0). "We didn't capitalize. We had a number of opportunities, and if we didn't turn them over, and we could have scored, I think it might have been different."
As it was, most of the compliments were reserved for Duke, which made 54.5 percent of its shots from the field, including 80 percent (8-for-10) from three-point range. The Blue Devils took an early 8-2 lead and never trailed.
Mason Plumlee was absolutely terrific with 20 points and 17 rebounds. Seth Curry shot 8-for-11 from the field on his way to 25 points as the Duke offense stayed efficient to the end.
The Gophers (4-1) threw everything they had at Plumlee down low, rotating Elliott Eliason (who started) with Trevor Mbakwe and Mo Walker at center, and even playing Rodney Williams at small forward with both Mbakwe and Walker in the lineup in the second half. But none of their formulas did much to stop the Blue Devils' 6-10, 235-pound senior.
"I was proud of him because of the physicality playing against those three kids," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Mason has prepared since last spring. He's been incredibly focused -- he's been a joy to coach."
The Gophers got a big effort again from Williams, who finished with 16 points and seven rebounds, and another encouraging 12-point, four-assist outing from Andre Hollins. But as a team, they showed plenty of flaws, and Duke was too good, too long and too ruthless to allow the Gophers to stage a comeback.
The Gophers turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, a half that looked sloppy at points for both teams. Towards the end of the half, Maverick Ahanmisi gave them a boost with seven points and two steals, and his three-point play six seconds before halftime cut the deficit to 37-33. But Quinn Cook hit a three-pointer as time expired to restore the Blue Devils' seven-point lead.
The Gophers cut down on their turnovers in the second half and showed better intensity, but their signature defense -- they held opponents to 28.6 percent shooting coming in to the game -- seemed to not affect the Blue Devils at all. Duke quickly restored its double-digit lead early in the half and never was threatened the rest of the way, shooting 60 percent from the field (15-for-25) after halftime.
"We had a couple more lapses than usual on defense," Williams said. "And Duke hit every big shot that they needed to, no matter how good the defense was. When stuff like that happens, you've just got to go convert on the offensive end, and that's something we didn't do today."