Sparked by easy buckets in transition and swift ball movement in its half-court sets, No. 6 Duke knocked off UNC-Asheville 91-55 Monday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the opening round of the NIT Preseason Tipoff. Although the game was listed as a sellout, there were a number of empty seats in the stands with a sparse turnout by paying fans and students alike, but the Blue Devils put on a show for those in attendance.
"We made our own energy today," freshman Jabari Parker said. "I know we didn't have a lot of fans, but we made our own energy."
Pacing Duke (3-1), Parker extended his streak of 20-point performances to four with 21 points, adding 10 rebounds on the evening for his second straight double-double. The freshman continued to display his willingness to share the ball, dishing out four assists, but also fell victim to six turnovers.
"I thought he tried to do too much," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He's trying to get everybody to be better, but I think a few times he over-did it.... I don't fault him for trying to get his teammates more involved. That's a good problem to have."
Redshirt sophomore Rodney Hood added 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting and became the Blue Devils' offensive catalyst after a slow start to the game. Hood went on a personal 7-0 run late in the first half, using a nifty behind-the-back dribble to knock down a jumper in the lane, driving past 7-footer Jaleel Roberts for a one-handed jam and hitting a 3-pointer from the left wing.
After his triple hit the bottom of the net, Hood—usually the quietest of Duke's three captains—sprinted toward the student section to pump up the crowd.
"That's the most excited I've gotten in a while," Hood said. "I think that really picked up our intensity, as far as the dunk and coming out to hit the three. It got the fans into it. It was a great energy boost."
Duke's defensive pressure caused problems for the Bulldogs (1-3) throughout the contest, forcing 15 UNC-Asheville turnovers. Those giveaways led to 27 points for the Blue Devils and helped them string together points in bunches to pull away and take a 48-28 lead into the locker room.
The Blue Devils had turnover issues of their own, giving the ball away 16 times on the evening, but strong pressure on the defensive end limited the Bulldogs to just 16 points off Duke miscues.
When they were able to take care of the ball, the Blue Devils were efficient in their distribution, assisting on 14 of their 18 made field goals in the first half.
Despite allowing seven offensive rebounds in the opening minutes of the contest, Duke recovered to control the glass, outrebounding the Bulldogs 42-28. After managing just seven rebounds through his first three games of the season, sophomore Amile Jefferson nearly doubled his season total with six boards against UNC-Asheville.
“I don’t think we’re a great rebounding team, but we need to be a better rebounding team, and we were that tonight,” Krzyzewski said.The story of the game for the Blue Devils may have been the play of freshman forward Semi Ojeleye. After surrendering three offensive rebounds on one possession early in the contest, Krzyzewski inserted Ojeleye in to the lineup just 3:28 into the action. Ojeleye took advantage of his increased minutes, knocking down two open 3-pointers and finishing with 10 points without missing from the field.
"Semi came in and to be honest, he shocked a couple of us. The first time he touched it, he shot it," Hood said. "He played comfortably offensively and he was a man down there defensively.... He's been playing like a monster, and he's actually playing like he looks now, which is scary."
With a quick 24-hour turnaround, the Blue Devils will take East Carolina Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium, with a trip to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden on the line.