At the very least, Duke guards Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving learned from their mistakes.
At best, they turned in a memorable performance in one of the biggest nonconference games of the season Tuesday night.
One night after they combined for 11 turnovers against Marquette, Smith and Irving kept their mistakes to a minimum, leading top-ranked Duke to an 82-68 defeat of No. 4 Kansas State in front of a heavily pro-Wildcats crowd at Sprint Center.
Smith and Irving both scored 17 points in the championship game of the CBE Classic. They also threw preseason first-team All-American Jacob Pullen off his game with tough defense, holding him to four points, 12 below his average.
Pullen was a teammate of Smith and Dukes Kyle Singler on the USA Basketball Mens College Select team over the summer. The team scrimmaged against the national team coached by Dukes Mike Krzyzewski, which was training for the World Championships.
Krzyzewski took a liking to Pullen because they both are from the same part of Chicago. Pullen said that he felt a bit like a Dookie as Krzyzewski gave him extra instruction.
But on Tuesday night, Krzyzewski turned loose Smith and Irving against Pullen, and he couldnt shake them. After Irving drove past Pullen for a basket and a foul with 7 minutes, 37 seconds remaining, Pullen raised his arms toward the referee in helpless exasperation.
Duke dusted off high ball screens of the kind it used often in 2008-09 for Gerald Henderson to get Smith and Irving moving toward the basket. Sometimes they just flat-out beat their defenders off the dribble, too.
Duke trailed by a point early when Seth Curry came off the bench to make a four-point play, hitting a 3-pointer from the corner and a free throw. Curry added two quick steals and hit Andre Dawkins for a 3-pointer in transition.
The Blue Devils stretched their lead to 11 points on several occasions and held a 47-39 advantage at halftime.
Kansas State started the second half fast, cutting the deficit to 48-43 on two Jamar Samuels free throws. But then Smith and Irving beat the Wildcats with the pass.
Smith passed from the lane back to Singler for a 3-pointer at the top of the key. On Dukes next possession, Irving rushed the ball up the floor to Dawkins for a 3-pointer.
Soon the lead was 17 points.
Irving and Smith werent the only players with big games for Duke. Singler scored 11 points and Mason Plumlee added 10. Curry and Dawkins (11 points) both made big baskets off the bench, and Ryan Kelly drew two charges and sank a 3-pointer from in front of the Kansas State bench.
But Irving and Smith were the leaders just one night after they struggled. They learned, and on a team with just two seniors and one junior on scholarship, their growth was a step forward.
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