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R.J. Barrett's 27-point performance propels Duke men's basketball past Princeton


R.J. Barrett was Duke's go-to option throughout Tuesday's contest.

Duke came out of the gates slowly in its first game in 10 days, but shook off the post-exam rust to coast to a comfortable win in its return to Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The No. 2 Blue Devils dispatched Princeton 101-50 Tuesday night, led by 27 points from freshman R.J. Barrett. Duke missed its first eight shots to fall behind 8-0 and did not take its first lead until more than 14 minutes into the game, but that advantage quickly ballooned to 13 by halftime with the help of a 22-5 run.

"We kept telling each other to keep shooting. They’re going to go in, we’re getting really good shots," Barrett said of the team's slow start. "They started falling, and we saw what happened."

The Blue Devils (10-1) looked out of sorts to start the night, with Barrett not even catching the rim on multiple shots close to the basket and classmate Cam Reddish misfiring on his first three 3-pointers. Freshman Tre Jones couldn't get his shot to fall, either, as Duke missed its first seven attempts from long distance until junior captain Jack White found the bottom of the net.

To make matters worse, the Tigers (5-5) were beating the Blue Devil defense with several backdoor cuts for easy layups to keep the lead even as they got dominated on the boards.

"It happened to me twice early in the game, I was trying to contest my man too high, and he just backdoor cut me two times in a row," freshman Zion Williamson said. "It wasn’t good, so especially me, I had to really fix that."

Duke finally pulled in front with a catch-and-shoot triple by Reddish, a welcome sight for the Blue Devils after the 6-foot-8 forward had missed 16 of his last 17 3-point attempts since the start of the Hartford game Dec. 5. 

"There were a few things I wasn’t doing right, but I got back in the gym and figured it out. Obviously I didn’t make every shot I wanted to make today, but it happens," Reddish said. "I don’t necessarily worry about whether I’m making it or missing it. If it’s open, I’m going to shoot it of course. My parents put that in me when I was younger."

The Norristown, Pa., native's go-ahead shot snapped a scoreless stretch of more than two minutes for both teams, but the floodgates opened from there, as Alex O'Connell came off the bench to drill a 3-pointer to pad Duke's cushion and Barrett got back-to-back buckets in the paint.

The Blue Devils' defensive discipline also improved significantly in the last 10 minutes of the first half, holding Princeton to just two points for a span of 7:15 in game time. Duke's backcourt, led by Jones, pressured and stayed in front of the Tigers' ball-handlers with ease, and the Blue Devils stopped overplaying passing lanes to limit open cutters. Princeton finished the game shooting just 29.5 percent from the field and had 19 turnovers.

Duke didn't take long to put the game away to start the second half, with a quick 10-0 burst highlighted by a long outlet pass from Reddish to Barrett in stride for a two-handed slam. Barrett became much more efficient after the break as he attacked the basket for more controlled layups and short pull-up jumpers. The 6-foot-7 forward made his first six shots of the second half and finished 11-of-21 from the field.

"He always likes to get in the lane. Some people criticized him for getting in the lane too much in Maui, but I’m okay with him trying to get into the lane," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It’s just a matter of getting to know his team better."

While Barrett was having success attacking the basket, Jones, Reddish, Zion Williamson and O'Connell all added open 3-pointers as part of a 26-point onslaught in the first seven minutes of the half to give the Blue Devils a 32-point lead. 

Williamson didn't look to score as much as Barrett did, but he couldn't be stopped one-on-one when he did, powering to the basket for layups and contributing 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go along with a team-high 10 rebounds.

Duke will have a quick turnaround before a major nonconference test Thursday night against undefeated No. 12 Texas Tech at Madison Square Garden in New York. No Blue Devil played more than 26 minutes Tuesday as Krzyzewski tried to keep his team fresh, going deep into his bench early and often.

"[Jordan] Goldwire did a great job for us, which saved Tre, because we’ve got a big game Thursday, a big boys’ game on Thursday," Krzyzewski said.