DURHAM, NC—With more than 13 minutes left in the second half during a season-opening exhibition against St. Augustine’s University Saturday night, the Duke University Blue Devils—last year’s national champions and, thanks to several returning stars and a promising fleet of young guards, ESPN’s pre-season favorite—broke the 100-point barrier. That benchmark gave the Devils a 59-point lead over the visiting Falcons. Indeed, the Devils essentially won the game about a half before, when they sprinted to 30-1 lead with a mostly perfect eight-minute opening sequence. During that decisive gambit, outstanding-as-promised freshman Kyrie Irving, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee combined for four dunks, while Irving, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins each hit a three pointer. Seniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith scored, too.
“This is a very good shooting team,” Coach Mike Krzyzewski, now in his 31st year as Duke’s head coach, understated after the game.
Indeed, six Duke players hit more than two three-pointers during the contest, with the team shooting 56 percent from beyond the arc and 66 from the floor. It wasn’t just baskets that led to the 141-68 victory, though: Smith and Irving combined for nearly half of the team’s 38 assists (with only 12 turnovers), while both Mason and Miles Plumlee added several blocks. The Devils ran well, too, getting lay-ups and dunks in transition and consistently clamping the Falcons with their man-to-man defense on the other end. For Krzyzewski, that combination will be key this season.
“We’re going to get shots,” Krzyzewski said. “But we have to make sure we play defense and rebound.”
Duke’s trademark intensity was intermittent, however, their overall dominance pocked by spurts of complacence—missed defensive assists, poor ball-handling, a sense that this game was already in the bag. Missed free throws also saddled the Devils Saturday night, with co-captains Singler and Smith (who, after missing his first three, looked especially frustrated returning to defense) missing all of their combined first five. The Devils finished at nearly 75 percent from the line, however, with the sophomores Curry and Dawkins combining for 13 charity points.
At their best, the Devils were a hybrid of finesse and hustle, diving for loose balls, rushing to step in front of passes and looking down the floor for easy transition shots. Highly rated freshman Irving seems to have bought into Krzyzewski’s relentless system entirely, as his aggressive play in the first half against St. Augustine’s often put him above the rim and on the floor.
“I think he’s just mature—mentally, physically,” Krzyzewski said of Irving. “He has great poise. He had it in high school but playing the U.S. this summer when they won the gold medal helped him more.”
For last year’s CIAA champions of St. Augustine’s, the rout versus Duke marks the beginning of a rebuilding process. The team’s champ head coach, Lonnie Blow Jr., is now at Old Dominion, and six of the players from that squad left, too. New head coach Ken Spencer saw flashes of the team he needs Saturday night, especially after that opening disaster.
“With only six days of practice, with a new coach and a new system and a new staff, it was a shock. Our kids came in and, especially in the second half, they played hard and represented really well,” Spencer said. “We have an opportunity to go back and watch film against some of the best players in the country.”