A so-called neutral-site game earlier this week built the confidence of Kyle Irving and his Duke teammates.
It would only grow by winning another one heading into two big games next week.
Irving hopes to continue an impressive start to his college career by leading the top-ranked Blue Devils to a second straight win in an unfriendly environment Saturday against Oregon at the Rose Garden.
This matchup also features Duke star Kyle Singler heading back to his home state to face little brother E.J. Singler, a starting forward for the Ducks (4-1).
Kyle Singler was named a preseason All-American after helping the Blue Devils (5-0) win a national championship - he was the Final Four’s most outstanding player - but he’s had a fairly quiet start while Irving has grabbed more of the attention.
The freshman point guard is living up to his billing as one of the nation’s top recruits, averaging 14.2 points and an ACC-leading 6.6 assists.
Irving keyed Duke’s latest and most notable win with 17 points, six assists and five rebounds in an 82-68 victory over No. 4 Kansas State on Tuesday night. Mike Krzyzewski’s 800th win as Blue Devils coach came in the title game of the CBE Classic, held in Kansas City, and the crowd was mostly Wildcats fans.
“I really haven’t been in an atmosphere where the whole entire crowd is against me,” said Irving, named tournament MVP. “Most of my games have been at home, so this is my first official road trip. It was a great experience.”
It will be more of the same for this matchup, being played at the Portland Trail Blazers’ home instead of the Ducks’ regular home floor at McArthur Court.
Preceding that daunting start to December, the Blue Devils look for their 28th consecutive November victory.
Singler can finish his Duke career with a perfect November record by beating his 20-year-old brother, a sophomore who is two years Kyle’s junior. Both played at South Medford High School in Medford, Ore.
Kyle, averaging 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds, has an advantage of two inches and 20 pounds on the 6-foot-6, 210-pound E.J., who is averaging 11.6 points and 5.2 boards.
“I’ll just tell E.J. to take a deep breath and fight his tail off against Kyle,” Ducks coach Dana Altman said. “Kyle beats him on size and height, so he has to get low and box him out well.”
While the younger Singler and forward Joevan Catron, averaging 19.0 points and 6.0 rebounds, could hold their own with Duke’s frontcourt, the Ducks seemingly face a big disadvantage on the perimeter.
Irving and backcourt mate Nolan Smith account for 30.6 points and 12.4 assists per game, about double the combined average for Oregon starting guards Malcolm Armstead and Garrett Sim. Plus, Duke is among the national leaders in 3-point shooting at 43.4 percent, compared to 31.4 for Oregon.
The Blue Devils, winners of 15 straight, have outscored opponents by 28.4 per game and are holding teams to averages of 61.6 points and 40.0 percent shooting.
“They’re great on defense. They’re big and strong,” Altman said going into his program’s first meeting with Duke. “It’ll be a big challenge, we want to go up there and compete and play the best we can on Saturday. … Duke beats teams badly because they have such a good defense.”