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Freshman trio carries Duke men's basketball against Army in home opener victory

<p>Zion Williamson was efficient from the floor Sunday with his classmates struggling out of the gate.</p>

Zion Williamson was efficient from the floor Sunday with his classmates struggling out of the gate.

After crushing No. 2 Kentucky in its season opener, No. 4 Duke was already being pegged as national champions.

But a slow start against Army reminded everyone that the Blue Devils are not invincible. Ultimately, Duke’s talent was too much, but the contest was a bit too close for comfort against a team that finished in the middle of the Patriot League last season.

Led by Zion Williamson’s 27-point, 16-rebound performance, Duke held off a stingy and experienced Army squad 94-72 on Veteran’s Day Sunday afternoon at Cameron Indoor Stadium. After a first half in which they turned the ball over six times and allowed the Black Knights to shoot 46.7 percent from 3-point range, the Blue Devils began to buckle down after the under-12 minute timeout in the second half, going on a 11-0 run to put the game out of reach.

“Our guys don’t feel good about themselves right now, and that’s good, although they turned it around in the second half and won,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They were in a position to lose the game, and then they responded, and they responded really well.”

Despite having Williamson on the bench to start the run, Duke’s defense began to find a groove, and Cam Reddish and R.J. Barrett hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push a six-point lead to 14. Reddish provided eight of the Blue Devils’ 11 points on the run, and finished with 25 points on 9-of-21 shooting, including 7-of-13 from 3-point range. 

“[Reddish] does it every game," Barrett said. “We really just buckled down on defense. We were getting rebounds and getting out in transition.”

Williamson was dominant from the opening tip, taking advantage of his size advantage in the paint to help keep the Blue Devils (2-0) afloat in the first half as they head to the locker room with just a 50-45 advantage. The second-ranked recruit in the Class of 2018 only missed one shot in the first half, simply elevating over Army’s defenders collapsing in the paint.

The 6-foot-7 forward also made his presence felt on the defensive end, swatting six shots. On one posession midway through the second half, Williamson blocked three Black Knight shot attempts on the same possession, and on another, the Spartanburg, S.C., native spiked an attempt in the lane for his final block of the afternoon.

“I just do whatever I can to help my team win, whether it’s getting a block, diving for a loose ball or just getting a rebound,” Williamson said.

After watching the Blue Devils swallow up the Wildcat’s half-court offense Tuesday, the Black Knights opted to push the basketball in transition every opportunity they got. Despite Duke’s advantage athletically, Army (1-1) found success attacking the Blue Devils’ transition defense. The Black Knights also were able to find some points from beyond the arc, as guard Tommy Funk finished with 12 points and 10 assists, while senior forward Matt Wilson cashed in on the inside with 15 points and nine rebounds.

While Williamson continued to impress, Barrett experienced his first cold shooting performance of the season. Facing an Army defense that collapsed on his drives, Barrett hung around the 3-point line and coughed up five turnovers, notching 23 points on 9-of-19 shooting.

Duke will have a few days to improve before playing against Eastern Michigan Wednesday night at home. 

“Our guys need to know that when we play a team, you’ve got house money. You’re not going to be afraid of losing against us,” Krzyzewski said. “You have to play hard and well every well in every game. That’s the process we have to teach for our team.”

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