RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)—Duke was looking to play through some pain and work out the kinks. Alabama State proved to be the perfect opponent for that kind of game.
Shavlik Randolph scored 20 points and Daniel Ewing had 19 more Thursday night to help the top-seeded Blue Devils beat the Hornets 96-61 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
Duke (28-5) won its NCAA opener for the eighth straight time and advanced to the second round of the Atlanta Regional, where it will play eighth-seeded Seton Hall on Saturday. The Pirates beat Arizona 80-76.
“I thought our kids were ready and that was the main concern for me,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I felt we did a real good job tonight.”
It looked easy against 16th-seeded Alabama State (16-15), a team ranked 230th in the latest RPI rankings.
Malcolm Campbell scored 26 points to lead the Hornets, who play a few miles from the governor’s mansion in Montgomery, and will close out the year as Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament champions—a heck of a run for a team that began the season 3-12.
“The way we finished the season, you can’t really take anything away from us,” Hornets coach Rob Spivery said.
Typical of many Nos. 1-16 matchups, Duke put in a performance that looked great in a lot of ways, but didn’t answer every question.
Senior guard Chris Duhon started despite bruised ribs he got last Sunday in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final, a 95-87 loss to Maryland that raised some questions about Duke’s readiness for this tournament.
But all is not perfect there: Duhon, the emotional center of the team and possibly its best defender, played only 16 minutes and didn’t score.
“I just wanted to go out there and get a feel for the pain level and see how much I can do,” Duhon said.
Krzyzewski said he limited Duhon’s minutes by design.
“We wanted him to go out there and manage his injury, and I thought he managed it very well,” the coach said.
Duhon’s backcourt partner, J.J. Redick, was a mixed bag.
The team’s leading scorer and best shooter didn’t take a shot for the first 13 minutes. He went 0-for-5 for the rest of the first half. Urged to shoot more after halftime, Redick made three quick shots during a brief flurry early, and finished 5-for-13 for 14 points.
“I definitely felt like I was in more of a rhythm in the second half, and I think it’ll be nice if it carries over,” Redick said.
And really, this was a great night for many of the Blue Devils to work out the rough spots and put up some numbers.
Ewing, who hurt his non-shooting hand during the ACC tournament, made three 3-pointers and scored 18 of his points in the first half.
Luol Deng was one of several Duke big men to prosper. He had 15 points and five rebounds, overcoming an ankle injury he endured last weekend. Shelden Williams finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. Randolph made his first six shots and also grabbed eight rebounds.
The Blue Devils also got some good practice on their full-court press, which they used extensively over the first 16 minutes while they built the lead to 25.
“We came out pressing so we wouldn’t be lethargic, so we could have some energy,” Krzyzewski said. “You can walk into a game like this and not have energy, and crazy things happen.”
But nothing crazy happened on this night—unless you count Duke reserve Patrick Johnson grabbing the ball from the ref after a made Duke free throw and feeding teammate Sean Dockery for a layup. The refs saw through the ruse and waived off the basket, a light moment during a second half the Blue Devils used simply to build some confidence they might need after a shaky end to the season.
The loss to Maryland snapped Duke’s five-season reign as ACC tourney champs, and the Blue Devils entered the NCAAs off a loss for the first time since 1998. Four of Duke’s five losses have come in the last 4 1/2 weeks.
“You could see the fact that they’ve been under a lot of pressure all year,” Krzyzewski said. “Finally, in the second half they let down and started playing basketball.”