Duke Basketball: Blue Devils put nation on notice by trouncing Wildcats

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

The second half was a duplicate of the first, score-wise, in the Duke basketball team’s season-opening blowout over Kentucky on Tuesday night in the Champions Classic, and both those halves should provide cause for concern for all of the Blue Devils’ future opponents.

No other Duke basketball team in history has ever scored 118 points in a game that was played outside the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium (117 was the previous high, set by the 1988-89 squad during a win at Miami in which Danny Ferry scored a school-record 58 points). Also, the 118 points are the most by the Blue Devils against a team from a major conference since a 120-84 home win over UCLA in 1998.

No doubt about it: Tuesday night was historic.

When recapping what happened, it now seems silly to put the ranking of No. 4 before the Blue Devils and the No. 2 before the Wildcats. And although most voters are likely to refrain from putting Duke in the top spot in next week’s AP Top 25 Poll — after all, No. 1 Kansas did take care of its business by beating No. 10 Michigan State, 92-87, in the first game of the Champions Classic — that also seems a bit silly after what the nation just witnessed.

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The freshmen sensations from Durham put on a show in Indianapolis that was nothing short of sensational, providing plenty of proof that the preseason hype surrounding them was justified.

Not only did the 118-84 beatdown by Duke — its eighth win out of the past 10 games in the series — mark the greatest margin of defeat suffered by any Kentucky team since John Calipari became the program’s head coach in 2009, but two freshmen Blue Devils surpassed the previous record for points scored by a first-year Dukie during a debut (the 25 points by last season’s star freshman, Marvin Bagley III, held the top spot for just 361 days).

Freshman shooting guard R.J. Barrett had a game-high 33 points in 32 minutes on 13-of-26 shooting from the field, including a 3-of-7 mark from downtown. He also added six assists and four rebounds.

And in just 23 minutes, Zion Williamson — who had to sit out much of the first half after picking up two quick fouls — finished with 28 points on a shooting performance that was nearly perfect. But being nearly perfect from the field is an easy task when you are a 6-foot-7, 285-pound freakishly athletic power forward who is able to dunk seemingly at will. He hit — often slammed — 11 of his 13 shots (1-of-1 from three) while snagging seven boards.

Furthermore, a third Duke freshman, Cam Reddish, came up just four points shy of becoming the third to top Bagley’s previous debut record. The small forward poured in 22 points, showing off a smooth stroke from beyond the arc, where he was 3-of-8, as well as from the charity stripe, where he was a perfect 7-of-7.

The fourth freshman starter on the squad, Tre Jones, directed the show (in front of his brother, former Duke point guard Tyus Jones, who was given permission to use the private jet of his NBA teammate in Minnesota, Jimmy Butler, just to see his younger sibling’s first official college game). Although the younger Jones only scored six points, he was Tyus-like in running the point for 30 minutes without committing a single turnover while dishing out seven assists. In other words, he too performed his role to near perfection.

But in a game that was basically one giant Duke run — literally, as the Blue Devils created one fast break after another, resulting from their 10 steals and the Wildcats’ 15 turnovers (Duke had only four), opening with a 27-10 advantage and outscoring Kentucky by the same 59-42 margin in both halves — it wasn’t just the freshmen who were nearly perfect.

The fifth starter for Duke, junior big man Marques Bolden, did exactly what head coach Mike Krzyzewski has been asking him to do since he arrived in Durham: he snatched loose balls in the paint with authority. And he didn’t make silly mistakes (zero turnovers). Also, he showed off his knack for knocking down contested shots around the basket, shooting 3-of-4 from the field and ending with seven points and four rebounds.

And then there was Jack White. Surprising some — not anyone here at Ball Durham — by proving to be one of the key pieces to the lethal attack, the junior forward came off the bench but played 30 minutes as a result of his providing the spark to several fast breaks with one hustle play after another. In arguably the most workmanlike performance of anyone on the court, the Aussie finished with nine points, three assists, two steals, zero turnovers, a game-high 11 rebounds, and at least another handful of heady hustle plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet but tremendously helped his team put together a tremendous overall display.

That overall display — in a game that the Blue Devils entered as a slight underdog — is sure to be the primary topic amongst college basketball fans at water coolers in offices across the country for days to come.

And if the Blue Devils, who made 54 percent of their shots and 47 percent of their three-point attempts, continue to put on similar displays as the season continues — next up is a home game on Sunday at 1 p.m. against Army, Coach K’s alma mater and site of his first head-coaching job — they will be the source of headaches for coaches who will be tasked with figuring out how to slow down such a phenomenal group of freshmen and their impressive supporting cast.

Next. Four-star 2019 guard Boogie Ellis set to announce. dark

Good luck with that.