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DURHAM — If there are three teams in the nation better than Duke, they would be hard pressed to look better than the Blue Devils in their second exhibition game, routing Fort Valley State 126-57 Wednesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Fourth-ranked Duke can measure the other three teams when they open their season in the Champions Classic on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Blue Devils face No. 3 Kansas at 7 p.m. and can watch No. 1 Michigan State and No. 2 Kentucky in the nightcap.
Duke displayed an overpowering mix of pressure defense, forcing turnovers (36), fast-break points (25), three-point shooting (13 of 28), offensive (19) and defensive (24) rebounding and — most importantly, in a difference from a year ago — working the ball around among five men. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski didn’t wait until the end of the game to single out the ball sharing.
“He talked about that at the half,” said sophomore point guard Tre Jones, who contributed six points, six assists and three steals. “That’s how it should be. We shouldn’t care who is scoring or how much. It could be a different person every night. That’s how this team is going to be.”
Routing a Division II school isn’t significant, but a 67-28 lead at halftime and final point total are reminiscent of a year ago when three one-and-done top 10 NBA draft picks — Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish — toyed with Virginia Union 106-64 and defending NCAA DII champion Ferris State 132-48.
That’s not to say there is a Zion to watch this year — college basketball will wait for another Zeus — but Duke’s balance allowed a full starting lineup to show it can toy with the opponent. But since fans want to know who scored and how much, there were six players in double figures out of 12 that tallied points. Sophomore Joey Baker, coming off the bench, led the scoring with 22 points, including 6-of-8 from three-point range.
Freshman Matthew Hurt scored 19, freshman Cassius Stanley 16, freshman Wendell Moore 15, junior Alex O’Connell 12 and freshman Vernon Carey and senior Jack White 11 each.
Junior guard Jordan Goldwire, with seven points, eight assists and five steals, started along with Jones, Stanley, Carey and Hurt.
CAUTIONING SAVARINO’S GRANDMA AND MOM
With 4:36 to play, Krzyzewski substituted in the last three players on the bench, freshman Michael Savarino, freshman Keenan Worthington and junior Mike Buckmire.
Coach K praised Savarino for his two free throws, but he said he liked the assist to Baker better. He added Savarino, 6-foot guard from Durham Academy, will redshirt.
“I’m announcing that now,” he said in an aside to Savarino’s grandmother and mother (Coach K’s wife, Mickie, and daughter, Debbie) that drew laughs. “He’s not going in (regular season) — and don’t call the assistant coaches.”
Coincidentally, a night earlier in Michigan State’s exhibition win over Albion College, coach Tom Izzo’s son Steven, who also is a walk-onf reshman that Izzo is redshirting, hit a free throw.
The Blue Devils travel to Michigan State on Dec. 3 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Duke has a bye this week following a disappointing 20-17 loss to North Carolina before the Blue Devils host Notre Dame with a capacity crowd Nov. 9 at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The Blue Devils (4-4, 2-3 Coastal) remain two wins shy of bowl eligibility with four games remaining: No. 16-ranked Irish (5-2), Syracuse (3-5, 0-4 Atlantic), No. 23 Wake Forest (6-1, 2-1 Atlantic) and Miami (4-4, 2-3 Coastal).
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.