DURHAM, N.C. (AP)—Duke watched as Jimmy Baron turned the second half into his personal shootaround. Finally, the Blue Devils put their best player in his face — just in time to save their long home-court winning streak.
Kyle Singler hit two free throws with 19.4 seconds left, then stopped Rhode Island’s top scorer down the stretch to lead No. 8 Duke past the Rams 82-79 on Sunday.
Jon Scheyer scored 23 points and was 13-of-13 from the free-throw line, and Singler finished with 21 points for the Blue Devils (3-0). They fell behind by 12 early and trailed for most of the way before scoring on their final seven possessions to rally for their NCAA-best 62nd straight nonconference victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“It was one of those February games in November,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “The last 5 minutes, I thought we did everything right. … And they didn’t do anything wrong. They just missed a couple of shots.”
Singler twice hit a pair of foul shots in the final minute to put the Blue Devils up by one. He swished two with 57 seconds left to give Duke its first lead since early in the second half, and he knocked down two more to make it 80-79 before Rhode Island called timeout with 10.6 seconds left.
“We wanted to get it to Jimmy,” coach Jim Baron said.
The Rams worked the ball to Baron, and with Singler guarding him tightly, his fallaway jumper glanced off the rim, clipped a Rhode Island player and went out of bounds with 4.9 seconds on the clock.
“You know he’s going to shoot the ball, but you don’t know if he’s going to pump-fake you or bump into you for a shot, so he’s a very tough person to guard,” Singler said. “I just wanted to stay on my feet, know that he’s probably going to pull up for 3. If he’s not, just try to get a hand in his face, and I was able to get as close as possible to him.”
Scheyer made two free throws with 3.7 seconds left, and Baron’s half-court heave bounced off the glass as time expired to seal it.
Baron scored 21 of his 24 points in the second half and matched a career high with eight 3-pointers for Rhode Island (1-1).
“(Duke) put every guy possible on him,” the Rhode Island coach said of his son. “They were switching, changing defenses on him. He just stepped up and kept us ahead.”
Delroy James added a career-high 21 points and Keith Cothran added 10 points.
Nolan Smith and Lance Thomas finished with 10 points apiece for Duke, which won its first two games by an average of 37 points. Maybe the Blue Devils should have expected a tighter contest from the Rams—both previous meetings between the schools came in the NCAA tournament and each was decided by one point.
The Rams made 7-of-9 3-pointers in the second half and finished shooting nearly 55 percent, but were denied their first victory against a ranked team since 1998 and their first win against an Atlantic Coast Conference team since 1987.
Still, for more than 39 minutes, Rhode Island was a serious threat to become the first non-ACC team to win at Cameron since St. John’s did it in February 2000. The Blue Devils have won 192 of their past 195 nonconference home games.
“A lot of people who come into Cameron Indoor already lose before they even play basketball,” James said.
Not these Rams, who led for nearly the entire way—until the final minute, of course—and accomplished the rare feat of dominating the Blue Devils on their home court. They took control early during a first half in which they made 13 of their first 21 shots while forcing Duke into exactly the kind of slump usually reserved for its guests at Cameron.
Poor shot selection led to Duke’s 4-for-19 start from the field, and Krzyzewski’s team went nearly 10 minutes between field goals.
Rhode Island took its largest lead with 3 1/2 minutes before the break when Stevie Mejia’s three-point play made it 34-22. The Blue Devils finished strong, closing the half with 11 straight points, and Scheyer’s driving layup with 1.5 seconds left made it 34-33 at halftime.
“I don’t think our guys expected the level of play,” Krzyzewski said. “Don’t get me wrong. We respected Rhode Island. But they played at a really high level tonight. I thought it knocked us back.”