Despite being slightly undermanned, Duke has played well against some lesser competition in its first two games of the season. It should be even better with a little reinforcement on the way.
The ninth-ranked Blue Devils will have talented guard Nolan Smith back from suspension when they face Charlotte in the second round of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Tuesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Despite having just eight players in its rotation, Duke (2-0) has had little trouble overcoming the absences of Smith and injured 6-foot-10 freshman Mason Plumlee (broken wrist) during the first week of the season. After rolling to a 96-62 season-opening win over North Carolina-Greensboro on Friday, the Blue Devils beat Coastal Carolina 74-49 in the first round of the NIT on Monday.
The Blue Devils, however, will welcome the return of Smith, a versatile junior and one of the team’s top perimeter defenders who was suspended two games for playing in an unsanctioned summer league.
“Overall, we’ve done a good job without him,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose squad is averaging 85.0 points and shooting 52.6 percent through two games. “What he does when he comes back is, he brings the familiarity that you’ve known for a month.”
After scoring 20 points Friday, ACC preseason player of the year Kyle Singler had 23 with 11 rebounds against the Chanticleers. Jon Scheyer added 10 with five assists for the Blue Devils, who held Coastal Carolina to 28.6 percent shooting.
Freshman guard Andre Dawkins had 13 points in 25 minutes off the bench while picking up some of the void left by Smith’s absence.
Singler and Scheyer feel the return of Smith, who averaged 8.4 points and started 21 games last season, will make the Blue Devils stronger at both ends of the court.
“He’ll take a lot of pressure off of (Singler and me),” Scheyer told the school’s official Web site. “Nolan is a great player. In our transition game, he can really help us.”
With Smith back, Duke has a good chance to extend its NCAA-record non-conference winning streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium to 71 games. The top-seeded Blue Devils have won 30 in a row at home over unranked opponents and are 19-2 in the preseason NIT, a tournament they have won three times.
The first two rounds of the event are played at the home sites of the top four seeds. The winner of this contest will advance to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 25.
Duke is 2-0 all-time against Charlotte but hasn’t faced the 49ers since a 104-82 win on Jan. 18, 1992.
Charlotte (2-0) advanced to the second round with a 75-61 win over Elon on Monday. Shamari Spears scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half for the 49ers, who shot 41.8 percent but held Elon to 31.1 percent.
The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Spears was playing his first game after sitting out Charlotte’s 86-70 win over North Carolina-Asheville on Friday for violating team rules.
Spears averaged 9.6 points and 6.1 rebounds and started 17 games for the 49ers last season.
While it won’t be an easy task, Charlotte is trying for its second consecutive victory over a ranked opponent after beating then-No. 16 Xavier 65-60 on Feb. 19.