DURHAM, N.C. — Seth Curry has had a pretty good senior year for No. 2 Duke. Imagine how much better it might be if he could practice.
The senior guard is the Atlantic Coast Conference’s third-leading scorer at nearly 17 points per game. He ranks as one of its top 3-point shooters with 57 and likely will play a big part in Duke’s game plan against top rival North Carolina tonight.
That’s despite lingering pain in his right shin so persistent that he rarely practices.
“It’s the college player’s dream,” Curry joked Tuesday. “Be able to play a lot of minutes a night and not practice. I’m lucky.”
Scrimmaging 5-on-5 is almost always out of the question for Curry, who has been playing with the shin pain all season and wears protective braces on his legs to help alleviate the pain. He says his work is usually limited to walk-throughs, going through defensive assignments and shooting without much contact.
Curry has downplayed the injury all season — “not too bad,” he said Tuesday — and the key is staying rested and fresh.
“That’s all I really need — rest,” he said. “Get my shots up and try to focus on staying sharp.”
The stat sheet suggests he’s been doing a good job of that for Duke (21-2, 8-2).
His scoring average of 16.8 points, which ranks third in the league behind Virginia Tech’s Erick Green (25.3 points) and Duke teammate Mason Plumlee (18.2), is nearly four points better than last year’s.
He’s shooting a career-best 45 percent from the field and he’s hitting nearly 42 percent of his 3s — better than his 38 percent performance a year ago. Only N.C. State’s Scott Wood (63) has made more 3-pointers than Curry.
He’s playing 30.8 minutes per game — his most since he transferred in from Liberty after his freshman season in 2008-09 — and his quick catch-and-release shooting motion has made him a perfect fit in a motion offense that has him running the baseline, coming off screens and knocking down long-range shots.
“It’s hard to guard anybody that’s really good about running around screens, but if a guy can’t shoot, you don’t really worry about it that much,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “He does a great job of preparation of getting to the spot where he wants to get to the ball. He reads screens very well, they do a nice job of setting screens, and he usually catches the ball where he can catch it and shoot. . I think he reads screens and sets his man up and changes directions as well as anybody in college basketball.”
Williams would know: In five appearances in the sport’s fiercest rivalry, Curry has five double-figure scoring games. Curry averages 16 points and has made 48 percent of his shots — 52 percent from 3-point range.
Finding a way to slow Curry while not wearing themselves out will be key for the Tar Heels (16-7, 6-4), who will be short-handed on the inside. Williams says freshman big man Joel James suffered a concussion last week but didn’t tell anybody about it until Monday, and won’t play for a team trying to bounce back from a 26-point humiliation four days earlier at No. 3 Miami.
“It’s difficult because you have to chase (Curry) around screens on defense, and then Coach Williams wants us to run 100 miles per hour on offense,” North Carolina guard Dexter Strickland said. “You’re chasing him on defense, you’re tired and now you’ve got to run back on offense and you’re more tired. Fatigue plays a lot in it, but you’ve just got to be ready to play.”
Curry called it “speculation” to say that his stat line might benefit even further from four or five days of practice per week, but admitted his quickness and explosiveness might be better.
“I don’t think he has chances to really work out after practice or do conditioning (and) it just says a lot about him and his toughness because just to play with an injury like that and perform at a top level is tremendous,” Duke point guard Quinn Cook said. “I don’t know how he does it.”
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