DURHAM - If there were any thoughts that No. 1-ranked Duke is invincible, they were erased Thursday night.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski invited Cal Poly Pomona, the 2010 NCAA Division II champion, to meet the reigning Division I champions from Duke in an exhibition game.
Eventually seniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith combined with freshman Kyrie Irving in the second half to spark the Blue Devils to an 81-60 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
But the lessons of the first half won’t soon be forgotten by this Duke team.
Cal Poly Pomona returned three starters from the team that defeated Indiana (Pa.) 65-53 in the Division II championship game. The Broncos played like a veteran team early and seemed to relish the chance to play in an environment that was unusually electric for an exhibition game, even by Duke standards.
Tobias Jahn stole the opening tap and immediately laid the ball in the basket. He would score 13 of his 15 points in the first half as Cal Poly Pomona didn’t appear the least bit intimidated.
After six minutes, the score was still tied 12-12. Duke’s lead was just 39-33 at halftime, when the Broncos’ superior effort boosted them to a 23-17 rebounding advantage.
But this still was Duke. After Kyle Singler had been the Final Four’s most outstanding player, he wasn’t about to lose to a Division II team at home.
He scored the first five points of the second half on a short jumper and three free throws. He added a three-point play on a pass from Mason Plumlee, and tapped in a miss by Irving, scoring 10 of his 14 points in the first 6 ½ minutes of the second half.
Then Duke’s fast break got rolling. In a 29-second span, Smith passed to Ryan Kelly for an alley-oop jam and took an alley-oop pass from Irving for a dunk of his own. Meanwhile, Duke tightened up the defense that had allowed Jahn to wheel freely into the lane in the first half. The Blue Devils stretched their lead to 63-40 by the eighth minute of the second half, and allowed Cal Poly Pomona just nine points in the first 10 minutes after halftime.
Center Miles Plumlee muscled his way around the basket for 14 points. Irving scored 13, Smith added 12 and Mason Plumlee added 11 points and 12 rebounds. The 21-point win hadn’t come easily, though, and it left the Blue Devils plenty of room for improvement.
Photo: Duke's Kyrie Irving goes in between two Cal Poly Pomona defenders to score two of his 13 points during the second half. CHUCK LIDDY - email@example.com