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Duke’s season-opening 42-3 loss to Alabama could have been a devastating blow to the ego of a team confident it can match up better with heavyweights this year, but the Blue Devils haven’t let Alabama beat them twice.
In fact, they’ve won two in a row, including earning votes among “others” for the first time in the USA Today poll voting following the second victory.
True, Duke wins over N.C. A&T 45-13 and Middle Tennessee State 41-18 were managed against lesser foes, which accounts for the modest three poll points. But a confidence-damaged team could just as easily have stagnated.
Duke preferred to focus on what it took to hold Alabama scoreless in the first quarter and 14-0 through two periods.
“Going against (Alabama) gave us a lot of confidence with the 14-0 score at halftime,” said Chris Rumph II, a defensive end with two sacks and 4.5 tackles for a loss to date. “We’ve built on that with a bunch of confidence. We’re playing faster and mentally we’re locked in.”
Next, the Blue Devils (2-1, 0-0 ACC Coastal) begin conference play traveling to Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-1 ACC Coastal) for a 7 p.m. Friday game on ESPN at raucous Lane Stadium.
The Hokies have beaten Duke three straight, including 31-14 last season at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Virginia Tech redshirt junior quarterback Ryan Willis completed 17-of-27 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
“Some guys have to win some battles to put pressure on him,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “Any quarterback, the more time you give them the more successful they’ll be. We’ve worked hard and I think we’re better and more mature. We just have to go out and play.”
HOOPS PRACTICE UNDERWAY
Basketball practice opened Tuesday across the nation, but that was more exciting news at Duke than it was for the Blue Devils’ season-opening opponent — Kansas. In the annual Champions Classic, Kansas and Duke are matched for this year’s games at on Nov. 5 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The Jayhawks learned the same day the NCAA has charged Kansas with a lack of institutional control and head coach Bill Self with recruiting violations.
Duke’s four highly touted freshmen cast this year are center/power forward Vernon Carey (6-10, 270), power forward Matthew Hurt (6-9, 214), small forward Wendell Moore (6-6, 213) and shooting guard Cassius Stanley (6-6, 193).
They aren’t talented as last year’s freshmen, with Zion Williamson the NBA’s first pick, New Orleans Pelicans; R.J. Barrett, third, New York Knicks; and Cam Reddish, 10th, Atlanta Hawks.
But this year’s team features an experienced point guard that was lacking a year ago. Tre Jones resisted the one-and-done urge to return for his sophomore year.
“I think we’re going to have a more balanced team,” coach Mike Krzyzewski told the media of his 29th Duke team. “Hopefully we can play really good team defense because we’ll have more guys capable at the level we need to win. I love their enthusiasm.”
DUKE ADDS 5-STAR FOR 2020
Duke’s 2020 hoop recruiting class has commitments from three five-star prospects, according to 247Sports with the recent announcement from D.J. Steward. The 6-foot-2, 165-pound combo guard is from Chicago Whitney Young, the same school as Jahlil Okafor, who led the Blue Devils to the 2015 national title as a freshman.
Steward joins a class ranked No. 2 in the nation along with small forward Jalen Jones (6-8, 220) of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and point guard Jeremy Roach (6-0, 170) of Fairfax (Virginia) Paul VI.
Tom Shanahan is a freelance writer based in Cary and author of “Raye of Light,” a book featuring Fayetteville’s Jimmy Raye as a pioneering black quarterback for College Football Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty on Michigan State’s Underground Railroad football teams of the 1960s.