Their own Hall of Fame coach, who’s seen plenty in his 71 years on earth, called their play “magnificent.”
Now the No. 4 Duke Blue Devils, fresh off a 118-84 shellacking of No. 2 Kentucky last Tuesday night, have to come down to earth and prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.
The Blue Devils face less-heralded foes in Army, on Sunday at 1 p.m., and Eastern Michigan, on Wednesday at 7 p.m., at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Neither are top-25 teams, let alone a fellow title contender like Kentucky.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff have assembled a team clearly talented enough to challenge for a national championship. Still the Blue Devils are doing their best to stay grounded even as their stellar season-opening performance has already spurred talk of them waltzing to a national title.
“We’re only 1-0,” Duke junior center Marques Bolden said Friday. “We haven’t really done much of anything. No conference games. We’ve barely started the season. So our identity is going to be found out later.”
In the season-opening win at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis, Duke (1-0) certainly established itself as a high-flying young group capable of competing with anyone in the country.
Freshmen R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish combined to score 83 points, one shy of what Kentucky scored as a team in the game.
Duke needed less than 10 minutes of game action to open a 21-point lead. Kentucky never drew closer than 12 points the rest of the game.
Barrett scored 33 points, Williamson 28 and Reddish 22 for Duke. Fellow freshman point guard Tre Jones had seven assists and no turnovers in the runaway win.
Even though the performances came in their first collegiate game, the freshmen know tougher games lie ahead.
“They’re smarter than that,” Bolden said. “They know more than to think that every game is going to be like that. They are a talented group. As everybody saw, they can really play. But to stay consistent is really the biggest key.”
In film review and practices since the team returned to Durham early Wednesday morning, Duke’s coaches have stressed the importance of preparation and consistency to the young team.
“We are trying to ignore all the outside noise and just keep focusing on ourselves and trying to get better every single game,” Jones said Friday after practice.
The score may not show it, but Duke did have some difficulties. Six Blue Devils had two fouls in the first half, including junior reserve forward Javin DeLaurier’s three. Prior to the game ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said the thought Kentucky had, players one through nine in its rotation, the best team in the country.
Although three Duke players finished with four fouls and two more had three, no Blue Devils fouled out as they played through adversity to win easily anyway. But the Blue Devils know they can’t have that kind of foul trouble every night and expect to keep winning.
“We play really physical in practice so that kind of flowed over into the game with all those fouls,” Bolden said. “We’ll just try to keep our hands off people and talk to the refs to see what we were doing wrong.”
Bolden said the team is having no problem zoning out the national conversations about Duke’s greatness because “if we would have lost that game they would be the same people saying that we weren’t ready this year. It kind of goes in one ear and out the other.”
While Reddish said after the Kentucky game Duke wanted to make a statement in its opener, Jones said the Blue Devils have yet to establish an identity.
“We are still trying to do that,” Jones said. “We are trying to focus on defense and doing the little things right now.”