It was a good time to work some of the freshmen back in.
Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden made their debuts in No. 5 Duke’s 94-55 win over Maine at Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday. Tatum came off a sprained ankle from October, and Bolden sustained a lower-leg injury in a preseason practice.
They needed the reps after a disjointed first half that at times looked to throw off all that Duke (8-1) built through the first eight games of the season. Amile Jefferson picked up the Blue Devils’ first technical foul of the season, Bolden had three fouls and three turnovers in the first half and Tatum went down early in the second with a cramp in his right calf, slightly limping off the floor and being stretched out on the bench. The rookie, who said he was rusty and needed to get back in shape, went coast-to-coast three times in the first half attempting to score.
“Just playing my game,” said Tatum, who was cleared to play two days ago. “We have so many versatile guys and push in transition. That’s what coach wants us to do: play fast, get rebounds and go.”
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Tatum finished with 10 points and eight rebounds in his first game of the season.
Things shaped up after a jittery start for the freshmen, though. Bolden, who had not done anything for five weeks and was cleared Friday after practice, looked comfortable in the second half, finishing with seven points in 12 minutes. Jefferson nearly posted his fifth double-double, a second-half dunk giving Duke a 30-point lead (71-41) with 10 minutes left. He finished with a career-high 20 points to go with nine rebounds. Tatum played a surprising 20 minutes and could have had more if it weren’t for the cramp at the 17:50 mark of the second.
Grayson needs more than one game out, but hopefully he’ll be ready by Tuesday.
And with guards Grayson Allen and Frank Jackson resting to heal respective foot issues, sophomore Luke Kennard carried the weight through the many adjustments. He scored a career-high 35 points off 11-of-16 shooting and pulled down eight rebounds. He had 20 in the first half after an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer. His only other 30-point game came last season against Notre Dame. Kennard and other vets remained poised as the freshmen made their debuts. Harry Giles, who practiced against contact for the first time Friday, may be ready after exams.
“The second half was better. I screwed them up to begin with,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I wanted to look at our zone press, and with the new guys, I shoulda just put them in familiar territory. I screwed them up a little bit at the beginning of the game, and then we kind of found ourselves.”
Maine (2-6), whose players wore rainbow-themed warmup shirts to promote inclusion in the wake of House Bill 2, had its own 20-point scorer in junior forward Ilker Er. He came in averaging 9.9 points a game but had 20 by the break. Duke held him scoreless in the second half.
Duke played nine guys for double-digits minutes, each with at least three points. Duke shot 66.7 percent in the second half and made 22 of 26 free throws, led by Kennard’s 9-of-9 night at the line.
Tatum stayed seated after cramp. He opened his debut with a block that led to Kennard’s first basket about 40 seconds into the game. Tatum’s first shot attempt came about a minute later, a 3-point try that bounced off the iron.
He connected for his first career points at the 13:30 mark of the first, posting up Maine’s Danny Evans for the basket before coming out for a break.
“I missed playing so much,” Tatum said. “I’m just looking forward to each and every day. I just gotta get back in shape. I was a bit tired.”
Kennard and Matt Jones came out late in the second, giving Duke an all-big look with Jefferson, who brought the ball up, Chase Jeter, Javin DeLaurier, Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White in a game featuring all sorts of lineups.
“We were really big at one point, and it shows the versatility of our guys,” said Jefferson, who led the game along with Jones with four assists. “Everybody has to be able to contribute to help us. Right now, I think we can smile a little bit and be happy that we got some our guys back.”
Maine marked the end of Duke’s four-game home streak, and the Blue Devils will be back at Madison Square Garden for Florida Tuesday.
Krzyzewski said he hopes Allen and Jackson are ready by then. Allen has to tread lightly to prevent pain.
“It’s not on the main part, it’s on the side part,” Krzyzewski said. “So that gives him the ability to play, but if he hits that in a weird way, it’s tough to explain what that is, but it’s really bad pain, so we have to be careful about it.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan