After his shot fell, Luke Kennard extended both his arms like wings.
He had every reason to feel like he was floating.
It wasn’t only because he had just connected on one of his four 3-pointers in Duke’s Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship over Rhode Island Sunday, but Kennard’s five quick points after halftime gave the Blue Devils the offensive spark they needed to fly way ahead of a team that hung around in the first half.
He wound up the game’s leading scorer with 24 points in Duke’s 75-65 win over URI at Mohegan Sun Arena, good for Duke’s 19th in-season tournament title under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Kennard has played a lot of minutes the first few contests this season. The sophomore starting guard’s 36 minutes a game is a close second only to senior team captain Matt Jones, who has 36.2.
Kennard played the entire 80 minutes of Duke’s Hall of Fame tournament run, probably a carry-over from his extended minutes in the NCAA tournament last year. He averaged 33.3 in three tournament games.
Before the season started, Krzyzewski said Kennard was playing better than anyone at that point.
I thought we were really aggressive on the offensive end. We had to play small ball on the offensive end.
The coach’s statement carried a weight of expectation that Kennard has so far met through the early part of the season.
“He’s really good. If he’s on the court, he’s going to be good, and it’s on him,” Krzyzewski said after being asked in a post-game press conference whether or not Kennard was benefiting from the injuries of three star freshmen – two bigs and a wing – and a limited guard Grayson Allen (toe).
“Luke’s one of the better players,” Krzyzewski said. “When we’re healthy, we’re going to have a lot of good players. Right now we have … a lot fewer, but he can play with anyone.”
Krzyzewski mentioned how the right-handed Kennard shoots left and his days as an all-state quarterback in Ohio afford his versatility on the basketball court.
On a break with 14:11 left in the Tip-Off final, Kennard hit freshman Frank Jackson for two, strengthening Duke’s string of double-digit leads in the second half.
Kennard drew the double team midway through the second, leaving Jones wide open in the corner to bury a 3-pointer.
“He’s a helluva player, and he works at it everyday,” Krzyzewski said. “If he doesn’t get the ball, he’s OK. I don’t know that after this tournament he’ll feel that way, but we’ll see.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
William & Mary at Duke
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham