Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski knew his team’s dominance in Maui would come down to this challenge.
The 13th-ranked Blue Devils make their bid for a fourth Maui Invitational title Wednesday against No. 11 Marquette, a team that not only has made a name for itself recently in early season tournaments but also carries the confidence of knowing it can beat the perennial ACC powerhouse.
The teams met last season in the championship game of the CBE Classic in Kansas City, Mo., where the Golden Eagles (4-0) recorded a 73-62 victory as Dominic James had 25 points and seven assists, and Jerel McNeal added 17 points and six steals.
With Marquette returning almost all of its key personnel back this season, Krzyzewski figured upon seeing the Golden Eagles again in the championship of the Maui Invitational, where Duke (4-0) is 11-0 all-time and trying to add another title to its list after winning in 1992, 1997 and 2001.
“Coming into this tournament we felt Marquette was the team that presented the biggest challenge because of their veterans,” Krzyzewski said after his team advanced with a 79-66 victory over Illinois. “I hope our team has the energy and stamina because you have to play a great game to beat Marquette.”
With most of the attention garnered by Duke’s highly regarded freshman class, other players delivered in Tuesday’s bruising victory. Sophomore Gerald Henderson scored 23 points and senior DeMarcus Nelson added 16 for the Blue Devils, who shot 56.5 percent and overcame a 22-5 deficit on the offensive boards by rotating efficiently on defense.
“Gerald and DeMarcus were really strong driving to the basket,” Krzyzewski said. “You need someone to play up like that.”
The win was also the 779th of Krzyzewski’s storied career, tying him for eighth on the all-time list with former Illinois and New Mexico State coach Lou Henson.
After three middling performances, including a sluggish victory over host Chaminade on Monday, James and McNeal finally delivered the top-flight performances many expected that would make the Golden Eagles an elite team. James hit two 3-pointers in a game-opening 13-2 burst, and McNeal finished with 20 points as Marquette led wire-to-wire in a 91-61 rout of Oklahoma State in the other semifinal.
“We’ve had some great moments, some great segments, some great halves, but this was dominant,” Marquette coach Tom Crean said. “We needed a step up and be counted game for our own mind-set and we did.”
It was the 12th consecutive victory in a November tournament for the Golden Eagles, who won the 2004 BCA Classic and 2005 Great Alaska Shootout before last season’s CBE Classic title.
James, who was 2-for-11 from 3-point range in Marquette’s first three victories, went 4-for-6 from beyond the arc in Tuesday’s win and totaled 18 points. The Golden Eagles were 11-for-17 overall from 3-point range, a stark contrast to their 14-for-59 (23.7 percent) effort through the first three games.
Marquette again had balanced scoring offensively as five players finished in double figures, with Wesley Matthews chipping in 13 points and Dan Fitzgerald and David Cubillan each adding 10. The Golden Eagles have had at least four players in double digits in each of their four games.
Marquette’s victory last season was its second in six all-time meetings with Duke.