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In homecoming, Duke men's basketball's R.J. Barrett shows budding star potential

R.J. Barrett averaged 34.5 points in two games in Mississauga, Ontario.
R.J. Barrett averaged 34.5 points in two games in Mississauga, Ontario.

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario—After growing up in Canada, R.J. Barrett decided to attend high school in Florida to focus on basketball. Three years after making the choice to leave, the nation’s top recruit did not disappoint the hometown faithful upon his return.

Barrett carried the Blue Devils to a dominant 96-60 victory against Toronto Friday at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre to close out the Toronto portion of the Duke Canada Tour 2018. The freshman led the Blue Devils with 35 points and nine rebounds, team highs in both categories on the night.

Barrett shot an efficient 15-for-26 from the field, including makes on three of six attempts from beyond the arc. The 6-foot-7 forward also worked his way to the line Friday, but converted on just 52 percent of his 19 shots from the stripe between the two games.

“When he takes his time, he’s an outstanding shooter,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s a movement guy, so he makes really good moves to the basket and gets fouled and he’ll hit his free throw better than he did these two games, because he’s going to get fouled a lot.”

Playing without a pair of likely starters in freshmen Tre Jones and Cameron Reddish—who are nursing respective hip and groin injuries—Barrett and fellow freshman Zion Williamson were forced to carry the brunt of the offensive load once again

Williamson built on a solid 29-point performance from Wednesday, adding 24 points and eight boards to his ledger. The duo combined to score the Blue Devils’ first 21 points in Friday's contest after scoring 37 of the team’s first 40 in the tour's opener.

“I mean to be honest, it’s just us playing,” Barrett said of his connection with Williamson. “It’s really easy to play with him and the rest of our teammates do a great job of helping us out by spacing the floor, and we just make the right plays after that.”

With Jones—likely Duke's primary ball-handler this season—out, Barrett again ran the point, and the Mississauga native continued to display impressive court awareness and selflessness. Barrett added three assists in the win, one of which wound up with Williamson for another highlight-reel alley-oop.

“Coming to Duke has really taught me a lot about team success,” Barrett said. “When my teammates score, I’m really happy for them. When I throw a lob to Zion, you’ll see, that’s the most fun time of the game.” 

The Blue Devils used their quickness to get out on the fast break throughout the contest. Duke outscored Toronto 22-0 in transition and took also advantage of its size on the interior, gaining a 60-18 edge inside the paint.

Krzyzewski opted to start 6-foot-8 Jack White in place of sophomore Alex O’Connell, who was ruled out Thursday with an orbital floor fracture after taking a hit to the face against Ryerson. White got the nod instead of guard Jordan Goldwire, making the 6-foot-7 Barrett the smallest Blue Devil on the floor against an already-undersized Varsity Blues squad.

While Duke dominated on the interior, the Blue Devils struggled to defend the perimeter in the early going, allowing Toronto to trim an early double-digit lead to six at 32-26 early in the second quarter. 

The Varsity Blues converted on 13 3-pointers in the contest, eight of which came in the second and third periods.

“The game tonight, I thought [Toronto] started out great, spreading us, making threes,” Kryzewski said. “We did not do a good job fanning out to them and we over-helped. We left corners and they hit seven threes, and they did a good job with that.”

Next, Duke will head to Montreal, where it will practice Saturday before taking on McGill Sunday. The final matchup of Duke's tour tips at 3 p.m. at Place Bell in Laval, Quebec.

Michael Model

Digital Strategy Director for Vol. 115, Michael was previously Sports Editor for Vol. 114 and Assistant Blue Zone Editor for Vol. 113.  Michael is a senior majoring in Statistical Science and is interested in data analytics and using data to make insights.


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