Irving’s return is encouraging for Duke and fans

Graham Watson

The return of Kyrie Irving after missing 3½ months with injury was both entertaining and encouraging.

Irving, who was playing his first game since suffering a right toe injury in early December, came off the bench in the first half of Duke's second-round 87-45 win over Hampton to a rousing cheer, and played a relatively benign seven first-half minutes.

But in the second half, when the game was far out of reach, Irving started to loosen up a little and show flashes of the player he was before his injury.

Irving played 18 minutes, led all scorers with 14 points and added four rebounds, two steals, a block and an assist. He also made both of his 3-point attempts and all four of his free throws.

The fact that the game wasn't competitive probably helped. Irving seemed to really settle in during the final 10 minutes and that's where he did most of his damage. He shot jumpers and attacked the basket, though he was careful not to land on or take off on his right foot. Still, he made a leaping steal on a crosscourt pass and seemed unafraid to drive, the type of play that caused his injury in the first place.

Friday's game was a confidence booster and showed exactly how important Irving could be for the Blue Devils to make a run to a consecutive national championship.  But things will get a lot tougher when the Blue Devils face Michigan in the third round Sunday. The Wolverines also had a blowout win against Tennessee and will be brimming with confidence when they meet the defending national champs.