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DURHAM — Duke's unparalleled No. 1 from a year ago made a surprise campus visit to watch the Blue Devils and the player wearing his No. 1 this season. Zion Williamson, 2019 national player of the year, meet Vernon Carey, Duke's 2020 national player of the year candidate.
With Williamson enjoying an NBA All-Star game break, the New Orleans Pelicans rookie arrived for the second half of Saturday’s game. He sat behind the Duke bench taking in the scene as Carey led the No. 7-ranked Blue Devils to a 94-60 rout of Notre Dame at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Carey scored 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting as the 6-foot-10, 270-pound freshman continues to demonstrate improved post play. He's showing an ability to counter defenses trying to stop his best move with a second and third option.
"He's dominating, and he knows he can," said sophomore point guard and team captain Tre Jones. "He can get to (baskets) whenever he wants with his post moves. When he first came here he only had a couple moves he could go to. Now, after facing different defenses, he's adjusted his game. He's really expanded his game and more moves he can go to."
Duke (22-3, 12-2 ACC) moved into sole possession of the ACC lead when its seventh straight victory was coupled with No. 3 Louisville (21-5, 12-3 ACC) suffering its second consecutive loss. The Cardinals were playing at the same time Duke was beating Notre Dame (16-10, 6-8 ACC).
Carey's inside play had former Duke coach Bucky Waters, a frequent visitor to Cameron on game days, commenting Carey has "a little Zion in him" with his "size and quickness to the basket."
Of course, nobody is a complete copy of Zion Williamson (6-7, 285), whose size and strength included uncanny leaping ability to complete spectacularly stunning plays. But Carey's strong inside play is pairing well with Jones running the show.
Jones added 19 points with six assists to give the Blue Devils four players in double figures for the 15th time this year. Freshman Matthew Hurt added 12 and nine boards and junior Alex O'Connell 15 off the bench.
A year ago Duke's opponents said the scouting report was R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish didn't want to give up the ball. Zion didn't get enough touches and the others were standing around. Game-planning Duke with Jones running the offense is a tougher task.
"First of all, he is such a winner," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "You look at all the plays he's made, just in two years, to win games for them. I have the utmost respect for him. He's just an assassin and a winner. It all starts with him. He just sets the tone for them. I think he's a guy who makes everybody confident on that team, because he's such a killer."
Jones (6-3, 185) is the ACC's only player ranked among the league's top 10 in scoring (15.8), field goal percentage (45 percent), assists (6.6), steals (1.9) and assist/turnover ratio (plus-2.3).
"I thought that was one of (Carey's) best games," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He played through contact. Look, we go to our leader. Tre was magnificent, not good, and the kid is a special, special guy. He's leading the break and defense and with his mate, Jordan Goldwire, and the defense has been at a high, high level with those guys."
Goldwire, a 6-2, 185-pound junior that started his 12th game with Jones while also relieving him at point guard, finished with nine points, one assist and three steals.
Jones, Goldwire and other the perimeter defenders shut down Notre Dame's outside game. Seniors Juwan Durham (6-11, 223) and John Mooney (6-10, 235) scored 40 of the Irish's 60 points, with 21 from Durham and 19 from Mooney. Mooney's nine boards left him one shy of his 21st double-double of the year in 24 games.Notre Dame was 5 of 21 from 3-point range.
"I'm not sure we got more than 10 good looks (on 3s),” Brey said.
Despite the final score, Notre Dame was sticking with Duke throughout much of the first half, although relying on two players, Mooney (14) and Durham (13) for 27 of 32 first-half points, ultimately contributed to Duke putting together runs.
The Blue Devils' 9-0 run turned a 20-19 lead to a 29-19 advantage with 8:35 left in the first half. Notre Dame trimmed the deficit to 31-26 with 3:58 left on baskets by Mooney and Durham and Durham converting another field into a three-point play.
But a Duke 11-0 run pushed the lead to 42-28 with 54 seconds left in the half. Jones scored six of the points on an offensive rebound basket while trailing Carey on his steal and break to the basket, a 3-pointer and a tear-drop, 8-footer in the lane off a drive.
At that point, the second-half rout by the Blue Devils, outscoring Notre Dame 52-28, was predictable.
Duke's ACC games next week are Wednesday at N.C. State, next Saturday at home against Virginia Tech. The final four games are Wake Forest and Virginia on the road and rematches with N.C. State and North Carolina at Cameron.
Notre Dame faces the quick turnaround that Duke overcame last week with a road win at North Carolina and a home game two nights later on ESPN's Big Monday. The Irish host North Carolina.