DURHAM, N.C.—During their season opener Sunday night in Durham, the Duke Blue Devils headed into the locker room at the half with a 14-point lead. Impressive, sure, especially against the plenty talented Princeton Tigers. But that lead’s not as sound as one might expect, given that, in those 20 minutes, Princeton turned the ball over 17 times. In fact, the Tigers had twice the amount of turnovers as assists, and only eight more shots than turnovers. Duke shot the ball 35 times in the first half; Princeton, only 25. Stats considered, that 14-point lead seemed slim for the No. 1 Blue Devils.
In the first half, Duke was cold and a little anxious. Indeed, the Devils took almost as many shots from beyond the arch as inside of it, but they connected only on 40 percent of those exterior attempts. They missed easy transition attempts and looks inside, and they appeared feeble on the boards, with the Tigers outrebounding by a margin of four. Led by forward Ian Hummer, Princeton scored 12 of their first half points in the paint, working effectively inside the bigger Devils.
“We had too much energy on the offensive end in the first half,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. “We screwed up about five fast breaks where we should have had points. We were a little whacked out on energy.”
In the second half, however, that energy suggested explosiveness. Thanks to a set of three-pointers, smart passing around the perimeter and defense that continued to force the Tigers into uncertain ball movement, the Devils had taken a 24-point lead just seven minutes into the second half. The offense immediately worked inside, too, with Mason Plumlee scoring the team’s first two baskets of the half. The younger Plumlee also looked recharged on the other end of the floor, adding two motivating blocks within the half’s first four minutes. What’s more, the three-pointers that eluded Duke during the first half fell like floods during the second. The Devils shot nearly 75 percent from beyond the arch during the last 20 minutes, with sophomores Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry hitting two each. Senior Kyle Singler missed most of the half with foul trouble, but his teammates finally found the scoring switch. They marched to a 37-point victory.
“In the second half, we combined energy and poise,” Krzyzewski said.
If Duke can continue to do that, they should be, as predicted, a dominant team this season. Their defense remains relentless, fueled by hustle (Kyle Singler cleared five rows diving for a loose ball, and it’s only mid-November) and fast hands that deflected more than a dozen Tiger passes. Freshman guard Kyrie Irving continues to impress with his court vision, especially in transition. During the first half, he dished twice to Smith on the run, giving the senior guard two sure buckets. He finished the game with nine assists and one turnover, numbers that would have made Jon Scheyer—the missing piece of last year’s perimeter triumvirate, the one that won the NCAA championship seven months ago—proud.