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Kennard opens exhibition play on fire, leads Duke men's basketball past Virginia State

<p>Grayson Allen banged up his left shoulder in the first half but returned to knock down three 3-pointers in the period.&nbsp;</p>

Grayson Allen banged up his left shoulder in the first half but returned to knock down three 3-pointers in the period. 

The Blue Devils' injury problems continued into their first exhibition contest of the year, and they were disjointed at times without their stars on the floor in a shaky victory.

But Duke still won by more than 30 points.

The Blue Devils knocked off Division II Virginia State 90-59 Friday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium in their exhibition opener despite looking far from the dominant team that was picked to win the ACC at the conference's media day early on. Duke had 16 turnovers—freshman Frank Jackson had five—and gave up 19 offensive rebounds in its first contest against another opponent this year.

But an impressive performance by sophomore Luke Kennard ensured that the outcome of the game was never in doubt. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard led all scorers with 30 points on 8-of-17 shooting and sparked a 13-0 run in the first half with a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put Duke in front 32-16. Kennard also picked up a pair of steals in the Blue Devils' press in the first half that he turned into breakaway layups.

“Luke was outstanding, but that’s how Luke has been playing,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “If you had to grade everybody, he’s played the best overall since we started practice.”

Freshman center Marques Bolden, Grayson Allen and Jackson joined Kennard in double figures, but Allen's first contest of his junior campaign was anything but smooth sailing.

Allen and co-captain Matt Jones were both hurt driving to the basket early and joined injured freshmen Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles on the bench for a long stretch of the first half.

Allen reentered the game after seven minutes on the bench and finished with 13 points, but exited in the second half when he appeared to injure his shoulder again on a breakaway dunk. Jones did not return to the floor and played just three minutes.

"Matt is going to be alright, but his hamstring started to tighten up and we’re just not going to take a chance on that," Krzyzewski said.

Without Duke's veteran guards helping him on the wing, Jackson struggled handling the ball and threw several errant passes. The Trojans responded to Duke's full-court pressure defense with aggressive on-ball defense of their own, speeding the game up for the Blue Devils' inexperienced players and forcing mistakes all night. But Duke also scored 24 points off turnovers to use the fast pace to its advantage.

“We’re really athletic, really long, so the press can kind of slow a team down,” Kennard said. “We can score the ball, so if we play well on the defensive end and get some turnovers—especially from the press like we did—it can really propel us as a whole group.”

But after Kennard carried Duke into the locker room with a 42-27 lead, Jackson and Duke's big men came back strong in the second half. The Blue Devils were outrebounded 22-15 in the first half, allowing the Trojans to get 13 offensive boards, but finished the night with a 41-37 advantage on the glass. Jackson canned four 3-pointers to finish the night with 17 points despite his rocky start.

Bolden energized the crowd with an offensive rebound and layup through contact to give the Blue Devils their first 20-point lead at 52-31 with about 14 minutes remaining, and the DeSoto, Texas, native took a pass from Allen on the ensuing possession and finished with a strong two-handed dunk.

Less than a minute later, Bolden passed to classmate Javin DeLaurier slashing through the lane for another dunk to force a Virginia State timeout.

Bolden impressed Friday, notching a double-double with 13 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks in 25 minutes. Graduate student Amile Jefferson also reached double figures on the boards.

“Marques did a great job in the second half of protecting our paint. He did an amazing job of being really big and then finishing out with defensive rebounds,” Jefferson said. “They got a lot of shots at our basket early in the first half, and in the second half we did a way better job of keeping guys in front.”

With Jones' health status now also uncertain, the Blue Devils will be looking for a more complete performance against the defending Division II national champions in their final exhibition against Augustana next Friday.

“They were placed in some unusual situations tonight because of our physical condition,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s kind of nuts right now. We’ve got to get healthy.”


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