by Joe Schwartz
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM—They won’t lose a game all season. The ACC regular season schedule won’t really challenge them.
While those statements might yet prove to be hyperbolic, No. 1 Duke (13-0, 1-0 ACC) used its ACC opener Sunday night to display the reasons pundits have been drooling about the team since the summer, winning 74-63 against the Miami Hurricanes (11-4, 0-1).
The only real difference between this contest and the tune-ups to date was the conference logo on Miami’s chest. When Duke’s equipment manager is forced to climb a ladder and replace the net after warm-ups, it’s usually not a good sign for the opposition.
The Blue Devils still ran, the Plumlees still swatted would-be lay-ups, the perimeter players still dropped shot after shot from behind the arc and the team still played a blanketing man-to-man. Coach K still chewed the ref’s ears. It sure looks like 2011 will feel a lot like 2010 for these Blue Devils.
Fending away those who want to crown his team already, Krzyzewski took his team to Cameron on Saturday night and pointed to the collection of ACC banners in the rafters.
“We tried to impress on our guys that it’s their turn to try to do something in the ACC,” he said “12 out of the last 14 years (of winning the ACC regular season or tournament) is pretty good, and now it’s your turn. You don’t win one of those without showing up everyday in our conference.”
But fresh off celebrating Coach K’s 880th win, which vaulted him one ahead of longtime rival Dean Smith, the Devils spent the first 15 minutes attempting to grab hold of the contest. Miami competed shot for shot before senior point guard Nolan Smith went crossover, bank, swish from deep, swish from deep, pump fake, drive, slam and splash from behind the arc again to score 13 straight for the Blue Devils. In the course of those torrid three minutes, Duke stretched the lead to 13 with 1:32 to go in the opening period.
Miami spent the rest of the contest trying to whittle the deficit down, but the closest they would come was with 11:41 to go when two Durand Scott free throws pulled the Hurricanes to within nine.
Smith led all scorers at halftime with 15 points. Kyle Singler and Andre Dawkins each accounted for 7. Smith and Singler each played the entire 40 minutes and combined for 42 points. The duo continues to be the conference’s top scoring tandem. Smith netted a season-high 28.
“Nolan was spectacular tonight,” Krzyzewski said, adding that Smith played with “verve.” “He’s been really good all season, but tonight in the ACC he was a difference maker."
Miami was led by big-man Reggie Johnson, who notched seven of the team’s first nine before succumbing to foul trouble and only playing for five minutes in the half.
“We have to play through Reggie and when he was out of the game I thought our guys got a little bit of a quick trigger,” coach Frank Haith said.
The team shot a dreadful 25.7 percent from the field during the first half.
Johnson, who looked pained when describing his experience on the bench, enjoyed more floor time in the second stanza using an array of tip ins and baby hooks to amass 22 points on 9-10 shooting from the floor for the evening.
Coming into the matchup at Cameron the Hurricanes sported a bloated 11-3 record earned by scheduling only one ranked opponent, Memphis, which accounted for one of the team’s three loses. The other setbacks came against Rutgers and UCF.
Duke was obviously Miami’s toughest test to date, and to be fair, they won’t play another team the caliber of the Blue Devils until the rematch, Feb. 13, in Florida.
"I think our guys will take some positives away from this game," Haith said. "We came here and competed."
Problem was, they were competing with Krzyzewski's Blue Devils.
Duke hosts UAB on Wednesday in a rematch against head coach Mike Davis who led Indiana to a Sweet 16 victory against the Blue Devils in 2002.