Luke Kennard played almost 30 minutes before his first breather.
That wasn’t the plan going into Friday’s exhibition game against Virginia State, but the Duke sophomore’s big minutes were largely necessary.
Matt Jones’ hamstring began nagging early.
Grayson Allen took a hit to his shoulder in the first half.
That left Kennard carrying the weight of guard play in Duke’s 90-59 victory over CIAA favorite Virginia State at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Kennard, a 6-foot-6, 202-pound sophomore guard, led the game with 36 minutes and 30 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the field. He finished 11-of-12 from the free-throw line and grabbed six rebounds, all on the offensive end where Duke dominated, 27-18.
In a scrimmage the week leading up to the exhibition, Kennard scored 44 points.
“Luke was outstanding,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “That’s how Luke’s been playing. He doesn’t have to force me to play him. He’s played great. I think, to be quite frank with it, he’s played the best overall since we started practice.”
Kennard didn’t disappoint when the lineup became young in the absence of Allen, a junior, and Jones, a senior. Kennard played with four freshmen on the floor at one point and complemented youngsters Marques Bolden (25 minutes) and Frank Jackson (31 minutes).
Kennard did a bit of everything as a poised vet on the floor. He handed out two assists and came away with two steals. With 7 seconds left in the first half, he got a piece of a Virginia State ball. Though the Trojans maintained possession after the contact, they were flustered and committed a shot clock violation.
Duke led 42-27 at the break, with Kennard being the only player on the floor the entire 20 minutes.
“Practice is really competitive, and we play a lot of five-on-five, contact up and down the court,” Kennard said. “Our conditioning is really, really good. We had a couple of injuries in the first half, so I had to kind of stay in there. They wanted me to stay out there and kind of control the team and direct everybody, so that’s what I had to do.”
Kennard was part of a mini-run in the middle of the first half against Virginia State, initiated by a big Allen 3-pointer. Allen was returning to the floor for the first time since taking a bump the shoulder and being evaluated on the sideline. His first shot was from deep to break up Duke’s stubborn 10-point lead against the Trojans.
Kennard followed up the surge by knocking down a basket on a cross-court pass from Allen.
“I think that could have been a turning point, but what kind of kept us going was Luke,” said Allen, who dumped in 13 points. “He was very poised up top and … in the game. We weren’t really expecting to have me and Matt off the court at the same time.”
The Allen and Jones dings add to a flurry of early-season Duke injuries. The Blue Devils played without freshmen Harry Giles (knee) and Jayson Tatum (foot) and junior Sean Obi (knee) on Friday.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan