Duke Blue Devils forward Kyle Singler (12) takes off on a first-half fast break after stealing the ball from Miami (Ohio) forward Nick Winbush (20). CHUCK LIDDY - email@example.com
DURHAM - Defense wasn’t supposed to be a strength of this No. 1-ranked Duke basketball team.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski said during the preseason that the Blue Devils would spend a lot of practice time focusing on defensive skills and habits.
In Duke’s first two games, though, defense has carried a Blue Devils team that has stumbled at times on offense. Duke held Miami (Ohio) to 33.3 percent from the field Tuesday night in a 79-45 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Two nights earlier, the Blue Devils forced 27 turnovers in a 97-60 defeat of Princeton. Meanwhile, Duke has endured a few frustrating stretches on offense even though the team has a lot of talented individual scorers.
After leading 38-17 at halftime Tuesday, Duke (2-0) missed its first six field goal attempts of the second half. At that point, the Blue Devils were just 13-for-34 from the field.
But freshman starting point guard Kyrie Irving, who was limited to seven minutes of the first half, finally heated things up for the Blue Devils early in the second half.
He drove for a three-point play, sank two free throws and made a 15-foot, pull-up jumper for seven points in 48 seconds as Duke stretched its lead to 52-26 and began to pour on the points.
Guard Seth Curry scored 10 of his team-high 17 points off the bench after halftime. Twice in the second half he hustled downcourt into position for quick 3-pointers from the short corner.
He swished both of them before the defense could get set up.
Irving added 13 points, and Nolan Smith and Mason Plumlee each scored 10 for Duke. Plumlee added 14 rebounds as Duke bounced back from being outrebounded by Princeton to post a 48-27 advantage on the boards.
Miami (1-1) wasn’t as formidable an opponent as Princeton, which had defeated Rutgers of the Big East before getting clobbered 97-60 by Duke on Sunday.
Returning four starters from a team that was 14-18 last season, Miami was picked to finish fourth in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division in the league’s preseason media poll.
The RedHawks’ most important newcomer was point guard Quentin Rollins, who last week became the first freshman to start the season opener for Miami since 2003-04. Rollins didn’t make a lot of mistakes, but wasn’t able to create offense, either, against the intense Duke defense.
He didn’t score or have an assist in the first half, and he finished with two points and three assists.
Duke’s defense still needs to be tested by stronger competition. That will happen next week. After playing host to Colgate on Friday night, the Blue Devils will travel to Kansas City to face Marquette on Monday and either No. 3 Kansas State or No. 11 Gonzaga on Tuesday.
But after two games at least, it appears Duke’s concentration on defense in the preseason has paid off.