INDIANAPOLIS—Tre Jones made 3-pointer, Cam Reddish made 3-pointer, R.J. Barrett made layup, Zion Williamson made 3-pointer.
Those were the first four shot attempts for the Blue Devils Tuesday, as the nation’s top recruiting class did not disappoint, scoring in the order they committed and potentially foreshadowing the season to come.
No. 4 Duke throttled No. 2 Kentucky 118-84 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, shattering the Champions Classic scoring record. The Blue Devils used accurate shooting and lockdown defense to open up an insurmountable 21-point lead in the first nine minutes of play and cruise to a season-opening victory, silencing a Kentucky-heavy crowd less than three hours from its campus.
"They’re really great kids and they want to be good all the time, so they’re easy to coach. This has been a really fantastic group to coach," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They come every day, they really like each other, they have fun, they laugh at my jokes—whether they’re funny or not. So they make me feel good."
Barrett, Williamson and Reddish combined for 83 points as Duke (1-0) quickly put to rest any doubts about its shooting ability, converting on 54.4 percent of its shot attempts, including 12-of-26 conversions beyond the arc. The Blue Devils carried over their selfless play from their preseason slate, accruing 22 assists as well.
The freshman-led Blue Devils looked unfazed by the big-game atmosphere in the first half, spurting out to a quick 32-11 advantage. The Wildcats (0-1) would not go down without a little bit of a fight, however, taking advantage of a four-minute scoreless stretch from Duke to cut the lead back down to a dozen, but the Blue Devils recovered, entering the locker room with a 17-point edge.
"At the start of the game, we hit everything," Krzyzewski said. "I want my guys to play loose and play hard, and I thought defensively, we played really well. I think we’re going to get into high-possession games, and if we do, we’ll have a better chance of winning."
Barrett once again carried Duke’s offensive load with 20 points in the first 20 minutes, and 33 overall. The nation’s top recruit was one of few Blue Devils to avoid foul trouble in the first half, with Duke picking up 16 fouls in the period. Williamson and Reddish both picked up two early fouls and were held to just 10 and 11 minutes on the court, respectively, before the break.
Junior captain Jack White impressed with his physicality in the paint during Williamson’s absence. It’s not easy to replace the 285-pound force that is Williamson, but the Australian helped keep the Blue Devil lead intact with seven boards in 14 first-half minutes. Duke put up 20 more shot attempts than Kentucky after winning both battles on the boards and turnovers.
Williamson and Reddish rejoined the scoring barrage in the second half, bringing their respective totals to 28 and 22 as the Blue Devils opened up a 30-point lead less than six minutes into the half to put the game out of reach.
"My nerves were pretty calm because in high school I got very excited about it, but when you get to college, you really just learn from the upperclassmen," Williamson said about his poise Tuesday. "If you go in too excited, things will not go your way, so you have to go in calm and just play very hard, and I think that’s what we did."
Jones once again controlled the offense as the distributor, racking up seven assists in the contest. The Apple Valley, Minn. native suffered a scare midway through the second half after appearing to bang knees, but he returned minutes later.
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Duke’s dominance Tuesday was its ability to shut down the Wildcat offense. The Blue Devils held Kentucky to a mere 44.1 percent conversion rate from the field and just four made 3-point attempts in the contest. Guard Keldon Johnson and big man Reid Travis carried the offensive load with 23 and 22 points, respectively, but a lack of help from the supporting cast hampered the Wildcats’ chances.
"There was resistance every play. [Travis] is so strong," Krzyzewski said of the Wildcats' presence in the interior. "They didn’t play as well as they’re going to play and we played great. If we play them again, they can beat us and we know that. We respect them. Things went great for us tonight."
Following Tuesday’s victory, Duke will host Army Sunday at 1 p.m. in its home opener.