Indiana’s lone top-five recruit was no match for the top two freshmen in the nation, as Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett shared the spotlight to lift Duke to a blowout victory in its first game back from the Maui Invitational.
Barrett and Williamson combined for 47 points in the No. 3 Blue Devils’ 90-69 win against the Hoosiers in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at Cameron Indoor Stadium Tuesday evening. Duke never trailed in the contest and finished the first half on a 13-1 run to put the game out of reach and take a 24-point lead into the locker room.
“Whoever has the hot hand, we keep going to him. For me, it was for me tonight,” Williamson said. “Coach was talking to me a lot about if I catch the ball on the wing, just swipe through hard. I take my first dribble to my side, so I feel that little bit of advice was a big help.”
The Blue Devils (6-1) thrived in a frenetic pace to start the game, scoring 11 fast-break points in the first seven minutes to jump out to an early double-digit lead. Barrett, Williamson and Tre Jones all got in on the action, and Jones also dished two assists to junior reserve Jack White for wide-open triples.
Duke got a plethora of transition opportunities by starting the game in a zone press and hounding Indiana (5-2) in its halfcourt offense with pressure man-to-man defense. Hoosier guards Aljami Durham and Rob Phinisee struggled to dribble past Jones, and the Blue Devils forced 13 turnovers in the first half. Duke wound up outscoring Indiana 19-0 off turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
“[Jones] is in that room where [Bobby] Hurley, Wojo, [Chris] Duhon, those guys are as far as on-the-ball pressure, no question,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He has such will and determination. You watch his eyes on the ball, and he almost had it four or five times tonight.”
Most of those giveaways came in live-ball situations that resulted in easy points, like a lackadaisical crosscourt pass by Phinisee that turned into a breakaway windmill dunk for Williamson.
“When I saw the ball bouncing, I knew I was going to get it, so all I did was quickly look back,” Williamson said. “They just stopped running, so I said ‘I’m going to give the crazies something to cheer for’.”
The Blue Devils also contained five-star freshman Romeo Langford, cutting off driving lanes and making him pull up for shots or become a distributor. Langford air-balled a step-back jumper with Barrett defending him for much of the first half, and he didn’t come out of the break any better, getting his first shot of the second half swatted into the seats by Williamson. Langford finished the night just 3-of-15 from the field with 13 points.
After Langford made a free throw with 2:34 left in the first half to pull Indiana within 14 at 43-29, it was all Duke for the rest of the half. Barrett, Williamson, Jones and White all scored on consecutive possessions, and when Barrett tried to wave off a screen from Williamson to go isolation on the last possession of the period, Krzyzewski overruled his young forward and made Williamson come get the ball instead. Williamson came off a screen by Marques Bolden and powered to the rim, converting an easy layup in the closing seconds to give Duke a 53-29 advantage.
“After the trip, we’ve done some things to get him the ball more,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s just the evolution of your team, so we were able to do that tonight, including at the end of the half, to do a 4-5 ball screen.”
The Blue Devils made nine of their last 10 shots in the first half and shot 52.4 percent in the game.
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Barrett did bounce back from that unimpressive sequence against the Bulldogs with a more efficient outing, scoring 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting before fouling out with 8:42 left. Duke’s home floor was also kind to Williamson, who shot 11-of-15 for his team-high 25 points.
The Blue Devils had a stretch of sloppiness early in the second half, but snapped out of it when Krzyzewski called a timeout and yanked off his jacket in a fiery huddle.
“Nothing was fired up. The arena was not fired up, my team wasn’t fired up, even the pep band was not playing. We had to pipe in music. We did, didn’t we, in the second half?” Krzyzewski said. “I can’t do a cartwheel or stand on my head. The main activity I can do is take off my jacket, which I know I’m not a pretty sight to look at, but at least the emotion of it may have helped a little bit.”
Back-to-back alley-oops from Williamson to Barrett and Jones to Williamson soon gave Duke its largest lead at 27 points.
“[R.J.] says I don’t throw him lobs. I’ve thrown him like three in the past four games so he can’t say anything anymore,” Williamson joked. “He’ll say, ‘bro, throw me a lob,’ and he’ll barely get off the ground.”
The Blue Devils will remain home for three games next week before final exams, beginning with a matchup Saturday night against Stetson. Their 18-year-long nonconference home winning streak is unlikely to be in doubt again until it welcomes St. John’s to Cameron in February.