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With a career-high 31 points, freshman Kyrie Irving helped Duke overcome the tenacious Spartans in a battle between the two top-ten teams at Cameron Indoor Stadium Wednesday night.
With a career-high 31 points, freshman Kyrie Irving helped Duke overcome the tenacious Spartans in a battle between the two top-ten teams at Cameron Indoor Stadium Wednesday night.

Kyrie Irving may be a freshman, but he played like a seasoned veteran against the toughest competition of Duke’s young season.

Irving scored a career-high 31 points to lead No. 1 Duke to an 84-79 victory over No. 6 Michigan State, legitimizing his status as one of the nation’s premier guards in the process.

“For a freshman in this environment, against these guards, to have this game... superb,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Irving’s performance.

The rookie point guard was instrumental in the win over the Spartans (5-2) only two days after he missed practice due to illness. He propelled the Blue Devils (7-0) to a 38-34 lead at halftime when normally-reliable seniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith shot a combined 3-for-12 from the field.

Irving hit Duke’s first 3-pointer of the game, giving the team an early 5-0 lead three minutes into the first half. He scored 13 of the Blue Devils’ first 25 points and racked up two three-point plays in the process, maintaining Duke’s narrow lead as the two teams traded baskets for most of the opening period.

The first three-point play came when Irving stole the ball from Delvon Roe and streaked down the court for an easy layup, getting hammered in the process and converting the ensuing free throw. Then, on the very next Duke possession, Irving pulled up from just behind the foul line, absorbed a Keith Appling foul as he released the ball, making the shot and the free throw to complete the three-point play and give the Blue Devils a 20-17 lead.

When the Spartans managed to tie the game at 25 three minutes later, the freshman nudged Duke in front once again by sinking a 3-pointer from the right wing after Kyle Singler whipped a pass to him from the top of the arc.

“My shots were falling early. I was in rhythm every time I shot the ball, so I felt as though I got a lot of good looks,” Irving said.

Mason Plumlee was the only other Blue Devil who made a significant impact in the period, scoring six points on 3-of-5 shooting and picking up three steals. And his one-handed slam with 4:59 on the clock sent the Cameron Crazies into a frenzy.

Meanwhile, Irving’s point guard counterpart Korie Lucious would not be denied in the first half and single-handedly kept Michigan State in the game, notching 13 points behind 3-of-4 shooting from 3-point range.

Numerous fouls by both squads created a sluggish pace at the beginning of the second half. The teams combined for 10 fouls in the first five minutes of the period, and the Spartans were in the bonus with 14:51 still remaining on the clock.

“It was a man’s game tonight,” Krzyzewski said. “Every possession was just so hard-fought. We had to fight like crazy to win.”

Michigan State’s physical man-to-man defense, and the Spartans’ ability to quickly get players back down the court after missed baskets, prevented Duke from running its up-tempo offense and dominating in transition. The Blue Devils managed only six fastbreak points on the night and botched a handful of alley-oop attempts to Mason Plumlee.

“We got ahead of ourselves on some of the fast breaks and probably lost about 10 points,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s how you learn. We still have a lot to learn.”

Even though Duke was stymied in transition, the Blue Devils never trailed in the second half. The Spartans cut their 10-point deficit to two when Durrell Summers buried a 3-pointer from the corner with 14:46 to go, but Duke built its lead back up to double digits in the span of five minutes thanks to clutch play from a senior leader.

Singler, who missed nine of his first 11 shots, broke out of his cold streak by knocking down two 3-pointers in just over a minute. His second bucket from downtown made the score 61-49 with 9:23 left—the Blue Devils’ biggest lead of the game. Not to be outdone, Irving executed a flawless up-and-under layup in traffic with under five minutes remaining, and from there the game’s result was never in doubt.

Forward Draymond Green did his best to close the gap, scoring 10 consecutive points for Michigan State in the game’s final minute, but Irving, Smith and Singler neutralized Green’s personal scoring barrage. Irving made 3-of-4 free throws down the stretch, and the two seniors each added a pair of makes in the final 25 seconds.

Irving, however, provided the most impressive play of the contest’s waning minutes all by himself. With 1:47 remaining, he weaved around three Michigan State defenders, darted into the lane and rose to the rim for a wide-open lay-in.

“Kyrie was huge for us, on both ends of the court,” Singler said. “He took care of business, and when things got tough, he made big plays for us. He had a great performance.”


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