- Photo by Jeremy M. Lange
- Kyrie Irving’s performance against Michigan State was the fourth time a Duke freshman has broken the 30-point barrier.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM, N.C.—Less than four minutes into Wednesday night’s game between the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils and the No. 6 Michigan State Spartans, freshman Duke point guard Kyrie Irving blocked a shot he probably shouldn’t have chased. Michigan State’s Draymond Green had rejected a jumper by Duke senior Nolan Smith at the other end, and the pass ahead gave Michigan State what looked like a certain two points. But Irving—as fast, explosive and determined a freshman as the Devils have had in a decade, arguably more—leaped high and wild, successfully swiping the ball away before he crashed to the floor. The play was brilliant; when he hobbled off the court a minute later, however, the unease in Cameron Indoor Stadium was collective.
But Irving returned in less than three minutes, driving immediately through the lane for a lay-up. The rest of the half belonged to the New Jersey kid, as he landed threes, jumpers and free throws on the way to a 31-point finish. His performance Wednesday night in Duke’s 84—79 win over the Spartans pushes the Devils to 7—0 on the season; it’s also only the fourth 30-point showing by a Duke freshman in school history.
“My teammates picked me up tonight, and they picked me up in practice on Monday,” said Irving, who spent the start of the week sick with a stomach ailment. “My shots were falling early, and I was in rhythm every time I shot the ball.”
Aside from a few errant passes in transition, Irving now seems fully confident and settled in the offense Duke built around his athleticism. That was bad news for the Spartans.
“I haven’t coached him like a freshman. I’ve coached him like a really good player,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski after the game, alternately describing the play of the freshman in his first collegiate 30-point game as sensational and scintillating. “He deserves to have the freedom to follow his instincts.”
Irving’s walloping numbers in Duke’s second marquee game was the difference versus the persistent Spartans. Michigan State held the advantage for only 42 seconds during the entire game, but their squad of upperclassmen refused any decisive Duke runs.
“There wasn’t a turning point,” explained Krzyzewksi, who pulled within one win of tying Adolph Rupp for the third most coaching wins ever with tonight’s victory. “Every possession was hard-fought.”
Though they’re generally a weakly rebounding team, the Spartans edged the Devils on the boards. Rather, Michigan State was plagued by turnovers, giving up a dozen in the first half by throwing several passes away.
“Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. “The turnovers are such a negative that it’s hard to feel as good as I’d like to feel.”
On a night when both Duke seniors and stars Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith struggled from the field, essential help also came from another underclassman, sophomore Mason Plumlee. Despite also leaving the game for several minutes with a sprained ankle, Plumlee finished with his third double-double of his career, matching his 10 points with 10 rebounds. With five takeaways, he dominated at both ends of the floor. That’s a good sign for the Devils. After doubts about which, if any, Duke player would take a central scoring role inside this season, the younger Plumlee—now with double figures in four of seven games—seems to have stepped up.
While the Spartans limited Singler to 15 points, the buckets from the senior came at pivotal moments during the contest. At the middle of the second half, Duke’s scoring slowed, but Singler hit two three-pointers within a minute. Just six minutes later, after Duke peaked with a 12-point lead, the Spartans inched back into the contest, coming within five points off of a Durrell Summers dunk. On the other end, Duke’s offense faltered, but with one second remaining on the shot clock, Singler darted along the baseline, grabbing a rebound and laying it in. After that, Duke dominated, pushing the lead back into double digits. A pair of threes by Green brought the Spartans within striking distance, but the Spartans didn’t have the time or energy to mount a full comeback.
“It was a man’s game tonight,” said Krzyzewski. “And both teams played it.”
Duke travels to New Jersey Saturday for a rematch of last year’s national championship game versus Butler.