The freshman scored a season-high 25 points and No. 1 Duke bounced back from one of its worst losses under Mike Krzyzewski by routing Maryland 84-64 on Saturday.
“This was just a game to show basically what our character was like,” Sulaimon said. “Are we going to fold after a big loss, or are we going to step up and be men?”
They had just four turnovers — none in the second half — while hitting 11 3-pointers and shooting 52 percent against a Maryland defense that hadn’t allowed anyone else to shoot better than 44 percent.
That came after he earned a seat on the bench because his man — Dez Wells — was beating him on the boards.
“When we took him out, we got on him and he did something that I think is so terrific. … He said, ‘I got you, Coach. I’ll do better,’” Krzyzewski said. “He just embraced responsibility, and anybody who embraces responsibility has a chance to do better. ‘It’s my fault. I’m responsible for it.’ He came in the game and he gave us a huge lift there.”
Wells and Charles Mitchell both had 13 points for the Terrapins (15-5, 3-4). They have lost four of six and were denied their first victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 2007 and first win over a No. 1 team since ‘08.
“We really played hard in the first 25 minutes, but I’ll look at the last 15 minutes,” Mitchell said. “That’s when you’re supposed to learn how to play and win the game, and we didn’t do that.”
Leading scorer Alex Len, who averages 13.5 points, finished with eight points and 10 rebounds for Maryland. But aside from an early reverse dunk over Plumlee that looked effortless, he was essentially a nonfactor against a Duke front line that was without injured 6-foot-11 forward Ryan Kelly for the fourth straight game.
The tough job of replacing him fell to high-energy freshman Amile Jefferson, who responded in his second straight start with 11 points and nine rebounds while blocking four shots and affecting several others.
His layup with 9:23 left gave the Blue Devils their largest lead to that point at 66-53. That came during the late 19-8 run that put Duke in complete control.
Logan Aronhalt pulled Maryland within single digits for the final time when his 3-pointer with 13 minutes left made it 58-49. Sulaimon countered with his sixth 3 to start the run, and Quinn Cook capped it with a jumper that put the Blue Devils up 20 for the first time, 77-57 with 4:39 left.
Cook finished with 11 points for Duke, which was coming off its most lopsided regular-season loss since 1984, a 90-63 beatdown at No. 25 Miami that will assuredly send the Blue Devils tumbling from No. 1.