LAS VEGAS—With the Blue Devils already up 14-3 in five minutes, Jayson Tatum came up with one of Duke’s six first-half steals.
The freshman fed Matt Jones streaking up the left side of the floor as the Blue Devils looked to add to their early double-digit lead.
But rather than slowing it down to run a set, Jones found a better option.
The senior fed a cutting Grayson Allen for an emphatic right-handed dunk that was a resounding sign that Allen’s toe was feeling better Saturday afternoon. No. 5 Duke started the game on a 20-3 run thanks to 12 early points from its junior All-American, turning that early advantage into an easy 94-45 win against UNLV in the first college basketball game at the new T-Mobile Arena.
The win was the Blue Devils’ most lopsided victory this season—they shot 70.0 percent in the second half.
“We’re sharing the ball really well and getting so much better at that, especially getting Jayson [Tatum] out there,” Allen said. “We’ve done such a better job as the season has gone on of sharing the ball, finding the open guy. It’s really hard to guard when we do that.”
After struggling from the field in his last two games and sitting out against Maine due to turf toe, Allen looked much more explosive driving to the bucket and elevating on his jump shot, finishing with a career-high 34 points on 12-of-16 shooting, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range.
Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski said the Jacksonville, Fla., native practiced for the first time in several weeks Friday, and it showed in one of the best performances of his career. Friday was the first time Duke practiced with its full complement of players all season.
“I think he’s going to grow from this, and I think personally he should have shot the ball more,” sophomore Luke Kennard said. “I got on him some because he didn’t, but he’s been himself. That’s what we need. It’s really, really exciting to see him be the way that he’s going to be for the rest of the season.”
The Blue Devils (10-1) jumped on the Runnin’ Rebels from the opening tip, turning aggressive defense into transition opportunities and easy baskets. UNLV (5-4) committed 13 first-half turnovers, allowing Allen and Kennard to find a rhythm in the open court.
Kennard had 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting as Duke made sure not to give the struggling Runnin’ Rebels any life in front of a capacity crowd of 19,107. Although UNLV went on a few spurts in the first half to cut into the Blue Devil lead, it could never cut it to single digits because of Duke’s offensive efficiency.
The Blue Devils outscored the Runnin’ Rebels 50-16 in the paint, attacking a small UNLV frontline from the opening tip.
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“We did a great job of attacking, so it wasn’t only the bigs scoring inside. It was our guards getting into the lane, getting easy baskets,” graduate student Amile Jefferson said. “And then when they did convert, kicking it out to guys like Luke, Grayson, Frank [Jackson] and hitting 3-pointers—we have a lot of pieces to play off of all of those things…. It makes us really deadly.”
Duke took a 42-26 halftime lead and started the second half with the same intensity, using an 11-4 spurt to stay in complete control. An 18-0 run to make it 71-32 capped by 3-pointers by Kennard and Tatum took whatever drama was left out of the equation.
Tatum and Jefferson joined Allen and Kennard in double figures, combining for 23 points.
“We were passionate about playing today,” Krzyzewski said. “We [said in the] second half, ‘Let’s execute. Let’s try to execute each time down the court.’ And we did. We had great execution and it translated…. Our defense in the second half was great.”
Following an eight-day break for exams, the Blue Devils will return to the court Dec. 19 against Tennessee State.
Duke is starting to get healthy and have the practices it hoped for entering the season—a scary thought for a team that is still integrating Allen, Tatum and freshmen Marques Bolden and Harry Giles into its day-to-day activities.
Like Tatum, Bolden played his third game Saturday, posting six points in 13 minutes. Giles has yet to play, but adding the No. 1 recruit to a team that has now won eight games in a row could make the Blue Devils the frightening team many envisioned entering the season.
That potential was on display again Saturday.
“Everybody’s doing a great job in practice. It’s just a joy to see everybody practicing,” Jefferson said. “That gives our team a huge verve and a good feeling to not be practicing with six guys or five guys and not be able to have a real practice. Now we can. Everybody’s getting healthy, everybody’s getting back. I’m really excited to see who we’ve become.”