Central Arkansas was supposed to be a confidence-booster for No. 2 Duke. In many ways, it was, but the home team would not leave unscathed.
The end result just wasn't all that surprising: the Blue Devils held the visiting Bears scoreless for seven straight minutes and shot out to a 40-point lead before the first half was over. Duke downed Central Arkansas 105-54 Tuesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the first game of the 2K Empire Classic.
Not everything was rosy, though.
Central Arkansas didn't get many blows in against Duke, but one hit was all it needed to knock out the Blue Devils' biggest threat. With just over seven minutes left in the first half, point guard Tre Jones clanked a three off of the back rim. He scrambled to retrieve his own miss, but was met with a Bear for a head-to-head collision.
The whistle blew and Jones hit the deck. He stayed nearly motionless for a minute, walked to the bench and never returned to the game. Before leaving, Jones had already recorded seven points, including his first 3-pointer of the year, in nine minutes. The sophomore captain is a leader for the Blue Devils on and off of the court—he is widely regarded as the premier perimeter defender in college basketball and boasts a developing offensive arsenal.
"We were just praying and hoping that he got up," Duke freshman forward Cassius Stanley said. "He said he’s feeling a little bit better now. Any injury to the head—it’s a serious thing."
In the postgame press conference, head coach Mike Krzyzewski was more optimistic on Jones' recovery.
"[Jones] looks pretty good now," Krzyzewski said. "[After halftime], he's slapping and joking around. I asked him if he knew my name. He said, ‘Michael,’ which was kind of bold on his part. Maybe he'll get even more assertive as a result."
To be sure, the loss of Jones was a tough blow for Duke (3-0), but manageable enough against a weak opponent like Central Arkansas (1-3). Freshman forward Matthew Hurt was an easy bright spot to find in Tuesday's blowout contest—if it could be called a contest at all.
Hurt had earned the starting nod in both of the Blue Devils' exhibition games and both regular season matchups. However, Krzyzewski clearly saw something he didn't like, though, and replaced Hurt with senior captain Jack White in Tuesday's starting lineup. It was the third permutation in as many games for Duke.
While Hurt didn't get the start, he shone off the bench. Hurt shot 7-for-11, finishing with 19 points, three assists and two blocks. His replacement, White, played just 17 minutes and scored three points. Two first-half triples from Hurt helped the Blue Devils rocket to an impossibly large lead in the opening minutes. Hurt displayed patience beyond his years, getting Central Arkansas defenders to bite on pass and shot fakes. Most of Hurt's shots were uncontested.
"He can get hot and he can hit shots," Blue Devil junior guard Alex O'Connell said. "Whether he starts or comes off the bench—it really doesn't matter. We have a lot of depth, so somebody comes off the bench and provides a spark. That's what we need."
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Stanley put Hurt's performance in perspective more simply.
"Coach was on him a bit before the game," said Stanley, "but he’s a beast."
Hurt's freshman classmates stole the spotlight in Jones' absence, too. Forward Vernon Carey Jr. scored 17 points and grabbed 10 boards, his first double-double of the season. Stanley was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field. Guard Wendell Moore played poorly on the offensive end but snatched three steals in his first four minutes of floor time.
There is much for Krzyzewski to be happy about from Duke's win. Overall, the freshmen impressed against the Bears. The Blue Devils even shot 9-for-18 from deep, an impressive mark. But Krzyzewski and Duke fans alike will undoubtedly feel at least trace amounts of unease before Jones takes the floor again.