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For starters, Duke saw great things from Zion Williamson, suffered another injury and returned to zone defense

Duke’s R.J. Barrett on the freaky skills of fellow freshman phenom Zion Williamson

Duke freshman phenom R.J. Barrett talks about fellow freshman phenom and roommate Zion Williamson.
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Duke freshman phenom R.J. Barrett talks about fellow freshman phenom and roommate Zion Williamson.

Duke started its first exhibition game two players down and added another to that list in the opening minutes.

Freshmen Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett were plenty good enough to put on a show in Canada anyway.

With Barrett scoring 34 points and Williamson adding 29, Duke easily dispatched Ryerson 86-67 in the first of three exhibition games the Blue Devils are playing this week during a Canadian tour.

Here are the main takeaways from Duke’s performance in a game played at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, Ontario:

For starters

Playing without injured freshmen Tre Jones (hip) and Cameron Reddish (groin), Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski started juniors Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier inside with Barrett, Williamson and sophomore Alex O’Connell manning the perimeter.

Another injury

That lineup lasted only three minutes before O’Connell was hit in the eye and had to leave the game. He was taken to a hospital, where tests determined he suffered a orbital fracture. He will miss the remainder of Duke’s Canada tour, but the expectation of Duke’s medical staff is he will be able to make a full recovery and be available this season.

“He got hit with an elbow,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. “I’m not saying it was intentional, but he got hit. We’re worried about his eye and the socket to see what happened.”

Jones, Reddish and O’Connell are three of Duke’s ball-handlers, so that left the Blue Devils thin on the perimeter.

That meant Barrett and Williamson, who are both versatile 6-7 players, had to take care of the ball more.

That proved to be a positive for Duke.

Barrett, Williamson lead the way

Williamson’s first game in a Duke jersey went a long way to showing he’s more than just a superior dunker.

The 285-pound forward needed just 23 shots to score his 29 points. He shot 13 of 23 from the field, including answering questions regarding his shooting ability by making 3 of 4 3-pointers.

He led Duke with 13 rebounds while also adding four assists, two steals and two blocked shots.

“Zion is just a different type of athlete,” Krzyzewski said. “I can’t think of anyone in the ACC. That doesn’t mean that he’s the best athlete ever, but if we’re sitting around at a small table, he’s sitting at that table with a few others in the conference.”

Krzyzewski cited Williamson’s hustle, securing three loose balls in the first half, as something that helped Duke as well.

Williamson couldn’t wait for his first game, even though it was an exhibition, and it showed in his play.

“It’s like a dream come true,” Williamson said. “Just putting those four letters across your chest, it’s a crazy experience, something that I can’t even describe. Playing for somebody like Coach K, who I consider to be the greatest coach of all time, it’s awesome. I just thank God for putting me in this situation.”

Barrett and Williamson are roommates this summer at Duke and their chemistry is already proving a positive for Duke.

“We haven’t had many practices so we’re a little rusty as you can see, but just getting on the court with Zion was great,” Barrett said. “It’s easy to pay with him. He’s very athletic and he knows how to play. He’s also able to knock down open threes and do a lot of different things really well.”

Playing in his native country, Barrett showed his reputation as a volume scorer is spot on. He made 12 shots, including two 3-pointers. He drove aggressively with the ball, drawing enough fouls to earn 14 free throws. He made eight.

“I don’t think he’s a kid that ever gets nervous,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s never afraid, but he’s excited so he’s excited and proud. He’s a youngster who has loved representing Canada on the international stage and this is home. He’s proud to be at Duke, and he’s proud of so many things, so you want to play great. I thought he played really well but he’ll play even better as this moves along. He’s a winner and a team player. He’s a real team player.”

But there were some concerning things about Barrett’s first game. He needed 30 shots to score his 34 points, so he lacked efficiency. He made just 2 of 8 3-pointers. He also turned the ball over five times.

Good and bad from veterans

The 6-10 DeLaurier had a strong game, making four of six shots to score eight points while grabbing 11 rebounds.

The freshmen are going to get their minutes, but DeLaurier and Bolden will be needed for interior play. DeLaurier got off to a good start.

Krzyzewski said he was “really pleased” with how DeLaurier played.

Bolden didn’t play as well.

He played just 19 minutes. He attempted one shot, grabbed two rebounds and blocked two shots. He turned the ball over three times.

The injuries on the perimeter gave junior Jack White playing time and he responded with nine points and three assists in 25 minutes. Nine of his 10 shots were from behind the 3-point line and he made three.

“Jack was very nervous to begin with but then he got in a flow and that was a good ballgame for him,” Krzyzewski said.

About the defense

Duke started the game in man-to-man but switched to zone as the game progressed because of rebounding deficiencies and foul trouble. Ryerson shot 34.3 percent overall while making just 5 of 31 3-pointers (16 percent) against the Blue Devils.

“We didn’t get three defensive rebounds and we got four fouls in about 30 seconds,” Krzyzewski said. “When that happens in this international game, which I’ve coached in for about 30 years, it can get away from you. We went zone, and we didn’t foul, so that helped us.”

Krzyzewski also said the Blue Devils aren’t in their regular season physical condition yet. So the zone helped cover for that.

Up next

Duke will practice on Thursday before playing its second exhibition on Friday at 6 p.m. against the University of Toronto. The game will again be played at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre.

The Blue Devils will travel east into Quebec on Saturday. On Sunday Duke will play McGill University at 3 p.m. at Bell Place in Laval, Quebec, near Montreal.

Both games will be televised by ESPN+.

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