EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)—Duke couldn’t play a much better first half. Xavier can’t play much worse than it did in the opening 20 minutes.
No. 6 Duke beat No. 7 Xavier 82-64 on Saturday, but don’t let the final score fool you. It was over at halftime when the Blue Devils were up by 31 points.
It never looked like a matchup of top 10 teams as the Blue Devils were ahead 22-3 before Xavier managed its first field goal, a layup by C.J. Anderson 5:54 into the game.
Everything Duke tried worked, whether it was 3-point shooting or drop passes close to the basket that turned a short jumper into a layup. Meanwhile, Xavier couldn’t get anything right as passes flew out of bounds and shots missed by a mile.
“We’re a good defensive team and our offense can hurt our defense if we’re missing 3s or turning the ball over, and if we get a chance to set our defense like we did today, teams are going to have a hard time scoring,” said Jon Scheyer, who matched his season high for Duke (10-1) with 23 points. “I think this was our best game of the season.”
The start surely was, just like it was on the opposite end for Xavier.
“That was not the team we’ve seen for 46 practices and nine games,” said Derrick Brown, who led the Musketeers (9-1) with 18 points. “Give Duke credit. They came out and punched us in the mouth.”
Gerald Henderson added 19 points for the Blue Devils.
“Obviously we know we’re a very good team when we play a certain way, like we did today,” Henderson said. “If we’re going to achieve the things we want to achieve we have to play consistent Duke basketball every game. We really just wanted to uphold our standards.”
Duke shot 61.8 percent from the field in the first half (21-of-34), including 8-of-15 from 3-point range. The Musketeers were 9-for-27 from the field, missing all four 3-point attempts, in the first 20 minutes—and they had 10 turnovers.
Scheyer had four 3-pointers in the first half, and his no-look bounce pass to David McClure for a dunk just seconds before the buzzer gave the Blue Devils a 55-24 lead.
“We had one of those halves where everything went right. If we could bottle that first half, we’d be pretty damn good,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Jon and G created a strength that hadn’t been seen this year. It was totally unexpected against an outstanding team. We were very well prepared and the team took a step up. I could feel it because we were prepared so well. I knew that we were going to play well, but it ended up that we played great.”
Xavier coach Sean Miller could see it getting away in a hurry.
“Being down that many so quickly certainly was the reason for this loss,” Miller said. “At the first timeout, I tried to remain positive, but I told the kids that at this pace, they could score 190 and I really thought it was a possibility.”
Xavier scored the first seven points of the second half, but Krzyzewski called a timeout 2:26 in and the Blue Devils scored on a jumper in the lane by Henderson and got a 3 by Scheyer to put the lead back to 60-31 with 16:51 to go.
The win improved Duke’s record at the Meadowlands to 18-1, the lone loss a 77-75 defeat to Arizona on Feb. 26, 1989. The Blue Devils’ last trip here was another impressive win over a ranked team as top-ranked Duke beat No. 2 Texas 97-66 on Dec. 10, 2005.
“This place has been a magical place for us,” Krzyzewski said. “When we walked out onto the court, I was really pumped up. The court looked great. It had the feel of an NCAA tournament game. It’s like going to the best restaurant. We’ve won a lot of great games here. It’s great for the game of basketball to have this type of atmosphere.”
Duke beat Purdue in its only meeting with a top 10 team this season and the Blue Devils have won 26 of their 37 games when both teams are ranked in the top 10.
Xavier was trying to match the best start in school history, as the 1996-97 team opened 10-0. The No. 7 ranking matches the highest in the program’s history.
The Musketeers’ only game against a ranked team this season was a 63-58 victory over Memphis in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
This was the second-worst loss in Miller’s five seasons at Xavier. The Musketeers lost 77-55 to Arizona State on Dec. 15, 2007.
Duke has won all four games it has played against Xavier. The last one was a 66-63 victory in the 2004 regional finals of the NCAA tournament.