DURHAM, N.C. (AP)—Kyle Singler ripped down the rebound with his right hand, dribbled the length of the court and knocked down a hanging layup while drawing the foul.
It was the kind of energizing play No. 13 Duke desperately needed at the end of last year’s up-and-down season. And that’s exactly what Singler and his fellow freshmen look ready to provide this year’s Blue Devils.
Singler finished with 15 points while fellow rookie Taylor King scored 20 to lead Duke past North Carolina Central 121-56 on Friday night, giving the Blue Devils their eighth straight season-opening victory.
Nolan Smith, a third freshman, added 16 points for the Blue Devils, who improved to 26-2 in openers under Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski. Gerald Henderson scored 15 points as Duke (1-0) finished with seven players in double figures while displaying the fast-paced tempo that went on hiatus last season.
Of course, the freshman trio had a lot to do with getting it rolling Friday in what amounted to a rude introduction to Division I play for the Eagles (0-1).
“They’re ready to play at this level,” Krzyzewski said of his rookies. “They can be good players right now. And they should bring energy. They should bring energy and enthusiasm. If they don’t, they’re not filling a role. They can bring all their skills, but they should bring (energy) more than anybody.”
All three did plenty of that, whether it was King falling over press row and into the “Cameron Crazies” while trying to deflect a pass or Smith’s transition dunk to crack the 100-point mark with about six minutes left.
The 6-foot-6 King went 7-for-9 from the field and hit five 3-pointers in 19 minutes, while the 6-8 Singler—the preseason pick for Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year—tallied eight rebounds and three blocks in 23 minutes. Smith, a 6-2 guard, finished 5-for-8 with four assists in 20 minutes.
“We have a pretty good class coming in and we can contribute right away,” King said. “Our starting five is obviously very, very good and I think that second wave … they bring a spark and contribute a lot.”
The teams had played exhibitions in each of the past three seasons, with Duke winning all three by an average of 42 points against the crosstown program. And though the Eagles had moved up from Division II, there was little they could do to keep this one from looking any different.
Duke’s size, speed and athleticism overwhelmed the Eagles from the start, helping the Blue Devils build a 26-5 lead in the first 7 1/2 minutes and increase it to 33 points by halftime.
The 121 points were tied for sixth most in program history, while the 65-point victory margin was tied for fourth. Duke shot 57 percent and had 16 3-pointers for the game.
“This is definitely what I had in mind,” Smith said. “I feel like every night we can score 100-plus points.”
That would be quite a change from last year, when the Blue Devils averaged 70 points and didn’t score more than 86 all season. They finished 22-11 and reached the NCAA tournament for the 12th straight year, yet struggled to live up to the program’s lofty standard of past success and lost eight of 12 games to close the season—including a first-round upset loss to Virginia Commonwealth.
Now, last season’s veterans figure they have enough depth to avoid a similar outcome.
“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,” said sophomore Jon Scheyer, who had 13 points and six assists off the bench. “The freshmen are always joking around and bringing a lot of energy to us, and on the court they’re all really athletic and can all run. That’s a strength of all their games.”
King provided the early offensive spark, scoring 13 points and knocking down 3s on consecutive possessions just before halftime to make it 54-21. The lead grew steadily after the break, with Bryan Ayala (18 points) and Charles Futrell (17) being the only Eagles to crack double figures.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do and a tough road ahead,” said N.C. Central coach Henry Dickerson, whose team shot 35 percent and committed 26 turnovers. “But that’s the price you pay when you move from Division II to Division I.”