DURHAM, N.C. (AP)—Nobody could have blamed Duke for being tired—not after playing four games in eight days, and not with one of its leaders injured.
Enter Nolan Smith, who gave the weary Blue Devils a lift by showing why he’s their starting point guard these days.
Smith scored 12 of his 14 points during the decisive first-half run that led No. 10 Duke to its third win in four days, 78-58 over Montana on Sunday.
Gerald Henderson also had 14 points, Kyle Singler finished with 13 and Jon Scheyer scored 12 for the short-handed Blue Devils (6-0), who played without co-captain Greg Paulus—a starter-turned-backup this season who was held out with a bruised right forearm.
But with Smith making his sixth straight start at the point, Duke went back to its familiar formula of hot shooting and high-pressure defense to fuel the game-breaking 30-9 first-half run that carried the team to its NCAA-best 63rd straight nonconference victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I just want him to keep developing,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s got a tough position, and it wears on you mentally, not just physically, when you’re responsible for running the team. … Last year, he didn’t have to do this as the primary guy, and all of a sudden, this is the fourth game in a week.
“He’s going to have different people there, and Greg’s not going to either play for him or with him. … How do you get better mental toughness? You do it by not just practice, but by going through these situations.”
Jordan Hasquet scored 15 points to lead the Grizzlies (2-2), who averaged 78.5 points in winning their last two before Duke pressured them into a season-high 20 turnovers and turned them into 31 points.
“We let their intensity speed us up,” Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said. “That was a big key going into the game, not to settle for mediocre (looks) because they trick you, they trick you into thinking you’ve got something, and you put it on the floor and they fly at you. We settled for mediocre and we also dribbled into some trouble, and they had layups and dunks and that certainly took some of our spirit from us.”
Leading scorer Ryan Staudacher was scoreless—he entered averaging 16.3 points—on 0-for-3 shooting with all of his attempts from 3-point range. He couldn’t even shake free enough to take his second shot until midway through the second half against an energetic Duke defense that could have been excused for feeling fatigued.
The Blue Devils had only one day to recover after beating Southern Illinois and Michigan on consecutive nights in New York to win the 2K Sports Classic, and that two-day swing followed their tougher-than-expected 82-79 victory over Rhode Island last Sunday.
Back home for the first time since then, they put this one away midway through the first half with the kind of burst they’ve come to expect on their home floor.
“We needed a wake-up call,” Smith said. “It’s been a long week for us, getting back from New York and a quick turnaround with this (afternoon) game. Everybody needed a little wake-up call. We had to come to play, because nobody’s going to come into Cameron and lay down for us. … As a team, we started talking more. Once again, defensively (the team) picked it up and started going again.”
Duke made 13 of 15 shots during its dominant 8-minute stretch, coming away with points on 14 of 17 trips downcourt. At the other end of the floor, the Blue Devils held Montana to two field goals in that span while forcing seven turnovers.
Smith hit five straight shots during the burst, capping his hot streak with a fallaway 3-pointer from the left wing to make it 36-20 with 5 1/2 minutes before halftime.
“I just got good looks and made the best of them,” Smith said.
Henderson closed the run a minute later with two free throws to put Duke up 39-22. The Grizzlies didn’t get closer than 13 in the second half in losing their fourth straight against a ranked team.
“We knew that they were a bit fatigued coming off of this road trip,” Tinkle said. “But we thought if we could get it to single digits, then you never know.”