The top-ranked freshman of 2016 made his college basketball debut Monday.
Harry Giles played about four minutes for Duke in its 65-55 win over Tennessee State, as the Blue Devils (11-1) led by no more than four in the first half. The Tigers (8-3) got on the board first, less than 30 seconds into the game, while Duke shot 28 percent (its lowest of the season) in the opening half – Giles’ one miss contributing.
“I was a little nervous,” an elated Giles said after the game. “I felt more nervous, just first-game nervousness and coming back from injury at the same time.”
No four minutes have been more anticipated for Duke this season, the amount Giles picked up midway through the first half. While there was speculation of Giles’ debut leading up to the game, Duke’s final nonconference home contest, his appearance wasn’t official until he shed his gray warm-up T-shirt and joined the huddle at the 12-under media timeout. The buzz grew from the sidelines during his pregame warmups. The news of his probable playing time spread like wildfire on social media – he was a trending topic minutes before tip.
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The 6-foot-10, 240-pound freshman forward checked in at 11:27 with Duke leading a slim 10-8 against a team that won its first six games of the year and played N.C. State to overtime about a week ago.
With Giles’ first touch in college basketball, he missed a jumper. That’s about all the action he presented, as he took a seat at 7:38, in the middle of an 11-2 TSU run.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski said simply Giles’ presence was big.
Giles showed good speed in transition and played with a brace on his left knee; otherwise, it was clear he was shaking off the rust. He had a scope on Oct. 3, one of three major knee injuries the Winston-Salem native has suffered. He missed his sophomore year at Wesleyan Christian in High Point due to a torn left ACL, MCL and meniscus. He missed basically all of his senior season, which was supposed to be played at Oak Hill Academy, with a partial tear to his ACL in the season opener.
Giles hasn’t played basketball competitively for well over 13 months; he declared for Duke in November 2015 following his senior-season injury.
His confidence for how his knee will respond after the game is high.
“I’ve been through tough practices and tough workouts, and it’s responded fine,” Giles said. “Going out there today and just being able to walk on the court healthy, that was a good motivator.”
He’s been active in warmups and has gotten some practice against contact leading up to Monday’s victory, which took a second-half surge by the Blue Devils to pull away from a spirited Tigers team led by the youngest coach in college basketball; TSU coach Dana Ford is 32.
Luke Kennard, the game’s leading scorer who remained steadfast through Duke’s poor shooting in the first half, sparked Duke with two huge 3-pointers in the second half. He finished with 24 points, going 3-of-5 from behind the arc. Duke never led by more than four in the first half but, in what seemed like a flash, raced out to a pair of 20-point leads in the second half.
Giles made his debut with one game left of Duke’s nonconference schedule. With Monday’s win, the Blue Devils hold an NCAA-best 132 straight non-league home victories. They open their ACC schedule at Virginia Tech on New Year’s Eve, allowing a bit longer for Krzyzewski to work in Giles, which was the plan when he got healthy enough to play in order not to disrupt any flow.
Fellow freshman Jayson Tatum, who played a huge second half against TSU, wrapped up his fourth game of the season after recovering from a foot sprain. He was a rebound shy of a double-double with 14 points and nine boards. Three of his defensive rebounds led to triples on the other end, helping Duke break open a close game in the second half.
Amile Jefferson, who finished 0-of-4 in the first half, finished with five points (2-of-7 from floor, 1-of-8 from the free-throw line) and a career-high 18 rebounds. Grayson Allen added 12 points.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan