Sports

Many think R.J. Barrett could be the top pick in the NBA Draft. The Duke freshman showed why on his home soil.

Montverde Academy’s R.J. Barrett shoots in the Beach Ball Classic game with Socastee on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015. Socastee lost 21 to 99.
Montverde Academy’s R.J. Barrett shoots in the Beach Ball Classic game with Socastee on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015. Socastee lost 21 to 99. jblackmon@thesunnews.com

Playing his final collegiate basketball game in his hometown, Canadian superstar R.J. Barrett left his countrymen with fresh memories of his talents Friday night.

The 18-year-old Duke freshman scored 35 points, showing improved offensive efficiency, as the Blue Devils routed the University of Toronto 96-60 at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, outside Toronto.

It’s the second time in Duke’s first two exhibition games that Barrett, projected by many as the top prospect for the 2019 NBA Draft, has led the Blue Devils in scoring. He scored 34 points when Duke beat Ryerson, 86-67, two nights earlier in the same venue. But he did so on 12 of 30 shooting.

On Friday night, the versatile 6-7 forward produced his team-leading point total by making 15 of 26 shots. That included making 3 of 8 3-pointers and also adding nine rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot.

“It’s just being competitive,” Barrett said after the game, according to the Canadian Press. “I think I am really good. I think I belong here. So just competing, really,”

Barrett was only part of the show for Duke. Fellow freshman Zion Williamson scored 24 points on a tidy 12 of 16 shooting.

Their play together is one of the major takeaways from Duke’s performance. And there are others, too.

Barrett, Williamson already comfortable

Roommates since arriving at Duke this summer, Barrett and Williamson have been Duke’s top two players in their first games against outside competition.

Barrett has averaged 34.5 points while Williamson has scored 26.5 points per game.

Their talent is a big reason, of course, but Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said circumstances are a reason why those two have taken 61 percent of the team’s shots over the two one-sided wins.

The Blue Devils are playing without three players who Krzyzewski said will factor into the team’s regular rotation. Freshmen Tre Jones (hip) and Cameron Reddish (groin) are resting injuries suffered before they arrived in Canada. Sophomore guard Alex O’Connell suffered a broken orbital bone near his right eye Wednesday night when he was elbowed during the win over Ryerson.

“I think (R.J.) and Zion were placed in a position in these two games to shoot it a lot,” Krzyzewski said. “When we get our full complement of players, they’ll still shoot the ball a lot but they won’t shoot it as much as they did in these two games. I think when R.J. takes his time, he’s an outstanding shooter. He’s a moving guy so he makes really good moves to the basket and gets fouled. He’ll hit his free throw better than he did these two days because he’s going to get fouled a lot. They needed to shoot like they did and the other guys need to play off and get offensive boards and they did a good job of that.”

Barrett said he enjoys the team aspect of Duke’s performances.

“Coming to Duke really taught me a lot about team success,” he said. “When my teammates score, I’m very happy for them. If I throw a lob to Zion (Williamson), that’s the most fun time of the game. I really like to see for everyone do well and be successful.”

White joins a new lineup

After O’Connell started against Ryerson, Jack White replaced him in the starting lineup against Toronto. The 6-7 junior was joined by Barrett, Williamson and juniors Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier.

White turned in a strong performance, something that Krzyzewski said he expects to see from in the regular season as White is in position to be more of a factor than his first two seasons.

After averaging 5.8 minutes per game as a freshman and sophomore combined, White played 29 minutes against Toronto. He contributed six points, five rebounds and a team-best five assists while playing turnover-free basketball.

“Jack played excellent for him to have five assists and no turnovers,” Krzyzewski said.

Baker highlights strong bench

Freshman Joey Baker played an efficient 18 points, twice as many as he played against Ryerson. He scored 11 points on 4 of 7 shooting, including making 3 of 6 3-pointers.

Two players who project as deep reserves for Duke this season also played well. Redshirt senior center Antonio Vrankovic had eight points and eight rebounds in 16 minutes while junior Justin Robinson added three rebounds and three blocked shots in his 16 minutes despite missing all four of his shots.

Bolden struggles continue

A 6-11 junior center whose career has yet to gain traction at Duke, Bolden played just 10 minutes. He had three rebounds and missed his only shot attempt to go scoreless.

Bolden lost the ball in the lane for a turnover on Duke’s first possession and missed a shot in the lane a few minutes later. He did not play in the second half.

Krzyzewski removed Bolden from the starting lineup to start the second half, going with sophomore guard Jordan Goldwire along with Barrett, Williamson, White and DeLaurier. The group’s cohesive play on defense late in the first half played a factor.

“With about five minutes to go in the first half, we had a really athletic group in there that could switch one through five and we pretty much held them scoreless,” Krzyzewski said. “We kept that group in at the start of the second half, and they didn’t only play good defense but they turned defense into offense.”

Up next

Duke travels to Montreal on Saturday where it will hold a practice before closing its three-game tour against McGill on Sunday at 3 p.m. at Bell Place in Laval, Quebec. The game will be televised on the ESPN+ subscription streaming service.

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