In the 2017-2019 Champions Classics, three young Duke squads pulled off statement wins against more experienced opponents.
The Blue Devils weren’t so fortunate this time around.
No. 6 Duke fell to No. 8 Michigan State 75-69 Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, snapping its nonconference home winning streak at four. It was an all-around team effort from the Spartans, as sophomore Rocket Watts led the way with 20 points, followed by junior Aaron Henry with 14 and sophomore Julius Marble II with 12.
Despite trailing by double-digits for much of the second half, the Blue Devils did make one last rally in the final minute, as a banked-in Matthew Hurt 3-pointer and Michigan State travel brought Duke within six points with the ball. But the late comeback effort proved to be too little too late.
"[Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo] always has outstanding teams, but this team is a very veteran team, and five of the kids that played tonight for us have never been in a game like that," Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "So it's a learning experience to play at this level."
Duke (1-1) was led by a 21-point, 13-rebound effort from Hurt, but finished a dreadful 32.3 percent from the field overall and 5-of-23 on 3-pointers. Freshman Jalen Johnson was limited to 11 points and one assist on 4-of-11 shooting, while sophomore Wendell Moore Jr. and freshman DJ Steward combined to shoot 0-of-16 from the floor.
The Blue Devils jumped out to a 13-3 edge in the first five minutes of the contest and led 25-18 with five minutes remaining in the first half. At that point Michigan State (3-0) was shooting 7-of-24 from the floor, and it looked like Duke was on its way to a fourth straight Champions Classic victory.
But then, a flip seemed to switch for the visiting Spartans.
Watts hit a floater, Duke freshman point guard Jeremy Roach turned it over, Watts swished a jumper and within a mere 24 seconds it was a three-point contest. Less than two minutes later, a Foster Loyer three tied the score at 29, and a Marble lay-in gave Michigan State its first lead of the night.
In the end, the visiting squad took a 37-33 advantage into halftime, but then Spartans were far from done.
Izzo's squad exploded out of the break, hitting five of its first seven shots en route to what ended up being a game-deciding 14-3 run, with a Joey Hauser three handing Michigan State a 51-36 lead with 16:31 remaining in the game.
"[The Spartans are] able to play at a consistently-high level because of their experience and depth better than we are right now.... Look, that's the first time we've played a game like that," Krzyzewski said. "That's not the first time those guys have ever played [a high-profile game], so they took advantage of that.
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"Again, it wasn't lack of effort or anything. We've just gotta get accustomed—it's a 10-round fight. You can't fight seven rounds, eight rounds. You've gotta learn to fight the whole 10 rounds."
Hauser struggled with foul trouble early on, scoring just three points in six minutes in the first half, but impressed over the final 20 minutes to finish with 11 points, 10 rebounds as well as a 2-of-3 mark from deep.
With seven minutes left, the Blue Devils looked like they could be making one of their ferocious comeback attempts. A Jordan Goldwire steal and layup followed by another Goldwire lay-in cut it to a nine-point deficit with 7:14 to go, but the Blue Devils’ offense quickly went cold.
"Yeah, for sure," Hurt said on whether a late comeback run is more difficult without fans in the stands. "But our team, our bench—coming into the season we knew that we had to create our own energy."
Next, the Blue Devils will take on Bellarmine Friday in the first matchup of the Mako Medical Duke Classic. Duke's second contest in the multi-team event, scheduled for Sunday against Elon, was postponed Tuesday due to COVID-19 concerns within the Phoenix program.