Duke came into the season hoping its talented freshmen could help it again contend for a national title. Early results appear encouraging.
After a successful debut, the No. 13 Blue Devils look for another strong effort from their three key first-year players when they host New Mexico State on Monday.
The trio of Kyle Singler, Taylor King and Nolan Smith had 51 points on 17-for-22 shooting in Duke’s 121-56 season-opening rout of North Carolina Central on Friday.
In scoring the sixth-most points in school history, Duke shot 57.1 percent (16-for-28) from 3-point range against a program in its first season at the Division I level.
While the win was hardly a clear indicator of what to expect from the Blue Devils, who are looking to rebound from last season’s first-round loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the NCAA tournament, the play of the freshmen was notable.
Singler, a preseason pick for ACC rookie of the year, started and had 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, while 6-foot-6 swingman King scored 20 points and went 5-for-7 from 3-point range. Smith had 16 points and four assists for the Blue Devils, whose lone senior is starting guard DeMarcus Nelson.
“They’re ready to play at this level,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They can be good players right now. And they should bring energy. If they don’t, they’re not filling a role. They can bring all their skills, but they should bring (energy) more than anybody.”
The 6-8 Singler is the jewel of the class, while King and the 6-2 Smith are expected to contribute off the bench.
“Our starting five is obviously very, very good and I think that second wave … they bring a spark and contribute a lot,” King said.
Gerald Henderson had 15 points and reserve Jon Scheyer added 13 for the Blue Devils. The two players, along with fellow sophomore Lance Thomas, Nelson and junior Greg Paulus, should benefit from having the three newcomers around. Duke’s lack of depth has been a problem for the team at times during recent seasons.
“I think with guys not playing as many minutes, that’ll be helpful as far as not wearing us out at the end of the year,” Scheyer said.
Duke will face New Mexico State for the first time as it looks to win its 53rd straight game over a nonconference opponent at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
New Mexico State fell 80-72 at Ohio on Friday, spoiling Marvin Menzies’ head coaching debut.
The Aggies got 19 points and 11 rebounds from star forward Justin Hawkins, but committed 18 turnovers and shot 6-for-28 from 3-point range.
Duke will have to find a way to defend Hawkins, who averaged 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds for last season’s 25-9 team that won the Western Athletic Conference tournament and lost to Texas in the first round of the NCAAs.
“In my recent transition, Justin has been one of the key reasons it’s gone as smoothly as it has,” Menzies said. “I think that’s a credit to his work ethic, leadership and potential.”
Menzies, who spent the last two seasons as an assistant at Louisville, replaced Reggie Theus after he took the Sacramento Kings’ head coaching job.
New Mexico State, which should again contend for the WAC title, looks to avoid its third loss in a row to a Top 25 team.