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Beyond the arc: Duke demolishes Kentucky in season opener

<p>RJ Barrett's 33 points broke the Duke record for most points scored in a freshman's college debut.</p>

RJ Barrett's 33 points broke the Duke record for most points scored in a freshman's college debut.

Duke-Kentucky was supposed to be a game for the ages, a matchup between arguably the country’s two national-title favorites. But the Blue Devils quickly turned it into a showcase for their own dominance, as Duke dismantled the Wildcats 118-84 anchored by its unprecedentedly talented freshmen class. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways and stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils: 

Three key takeaways: 

1. Outside shooting not a problem for Duke 

Nobody is doubting that the Blue Devils are among the most athletic teams in the country, led by a trio of freshmen who can all get to the rim at will. But one of the biggest concerns entering the season for this year’s Duke squad was its ability to keep defenses honest by shooting from the outside. But against Kentucky, four of the Blue Devils’ first five field goals came from beyond the arc, and it didn’t stop there. Duke finished the night shooting 12-for-26 from three, a 46.2 percent mark. Obviously that number is unsustainable, but it represents a promising start for one of this team’s biggest worries. 

2. Jack White emerges as high-energy, veteran leader

Even as Duke has transformed into a one-and-done factory, it has always had at least one upperclassman on the roster getting significant minutes and setting an example for the freshmen, from Quinn Cook in 2015 to Grayson Allen last year. Entering this season, many questioned who that upperclassman would be, especially considering no returning Blue Devil averaged more than 13 minutes per game last season. But in Indianapolis Tuesday night, junior forward Jack White emerged as that leader. One of the two captains on this year’s squad, White brought high energy and effort during the entirety of his 30 minutes on the floor. The Australian was constantly diving for loose balls and led Duke with a career-high 11 rebounds, including six offensive boards. Every Blue Devil roster needs its high-octane veteran presence, and it appears that Jack White is stepping in to fulfill that role. 

3. Blue Devils struggle with foul trouble 

Duke had an all-around dominating performance Tuesday night from start to finish, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that can be improved upon. One aspect many Blue Devils struggled with against Kentucky was staying out of foul trouble, especially the team’s two centers—juniors Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden. DeLaurier had three fouls in the game’s first 11 minutes and was limited to only 11 total minutes throughout the contest. Bolden was able to stay on the court a bit longer, but still ended the night with four fouls in 25 minutes of play.  

Three key stats: 

1. 118

The Champions Classic has pitted four of the best teams in the country every year since 2011. But none of those units ever put on a show like the Blue Devils did Tuesday night, who set the event’s scoring record with 118 points. No previous team had ever hit the century mark. Not only that, but Duke’s 34-point beatdown handed Wildcats coach John Calipari his worst loss during his ten-year tenure at Kentucky and represents the third largest win ever in a matchup among two top-five teams. 

2. 4 

Along with outside shooting, turnovers were also among the Blue Devils’ biggest worries entering the year, a natural concern with a roster so young and inexperienced. But Duke managed to turn the ball over only four times Tuesday night, a gargantuan drop-off from the 26 turnovers the Blue Devils totaled in their two exhibition contests. Meanwhile, Duke forced the Wildcats into 15 turnovers, with Cam Reddish’s four steals leading the way. 

3. 33 

Everyone knew R.J. Barrett would be good. But few predicted he would be this good this quickly. The Mississauga, Ont. native dropped 33 points on the No. 2 team in the country, setting a new Duke record for points in a freshman’s debut and coming only one point shy of Marvin Bagley III’s Blue Devil record for points by a freshman. Meanwhile, fellow first-years Zion Williamson, Reddish and Tre Jones chipped in with 28, 22 and six points respectively, as Duke’s four newcomers outscored Kentucky 89-84. 

Looking forward: 

This Kentucky matchup was supposed to be the Blue Devils’ biggest test all year. Now, many are questioning if any team will even be able to prove they deserve to share the same court with its counterparts from Durham. Obviously, an undefeated season is highly unlikely, especially in the ultra-competitive ACC. But to say this team could go down as one of Duke’s best is no longer a stretch. For now, though, the team must force itself to focus on one game at a time, with that next matchup being the Blue Devils’ home opener next Sunday against Army.