Past Duke stars, part of Blue Devil national championship teams themselves, descended on Cameron Indoor Stadium to see the next group in line to claim that accomplishment.
Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett put on their usual show helped No. 2 Duke dispatch N.C. State 94-78.
Williamson scored 32 points even though he picked up his fourth foul with 12:37 to play. Barrett, so ill he could hardly practice Thursday and Friday, produced the program’s fourth triple-double with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
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Seated behind Duke’s bench watching them were Grayson Allen, Tyus Jones, Amile Jefferson and Quinn Cook, all players on Duke’s 2015 NCAA championship team who are now playing professional basketball.
New York Knicks forward Lance Thomas, who played on Duke’s 2010 NCAA title team, was among the throng of former Duke players in the house.
They saw Williamson and Barrett lead Duke (23-2, 11-1 ACC) to its ninth consecutive win as the Blue Devils continue to look like the favorite to win the program’s sixth NCAA title come April.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski even allowed himself to make a public reference to that prize when asked about Williamson’s production while in foul trouble.
“If we are going to win something big,” Krzyzewski said, “your best players have to learn and have the discipline to play with fouls.”
In Duke vernacular, win something big means a victory on the final Monday of the season and a celebration that includes “One Shining Moment.”
Barrett averages 22.7 points per game. Williamson averages 22.4. Together, they are more than enough to beat most teams Duke faces.
N.C. State was the latest to learn that lesson after those two roommates combined for 55 points as Duke beat the Wolfpack for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
But something else showed up along the way to this Duke win on Saturday night, something that Krzyzewski and all his former players who have been part of NCAA title teams know is important if Duke is to win the big championship this year.
In between all those points, rebounds and assists from Williamson and Barrett were timely contributions from a couple of juniors.
Marques Bolden started his 18th game of the season against N.C. State. The 6-11 center entered the game with modest averages of 5.5 points and 4.6 rebounds.
Jack White has three starts this season. The 6-7 forward averages 4.6 points and 5.5 rebounds.
Bolden contributed nine points, eight rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots. All of those blocked shots and steals came in the second half when Duke tried and tried and finally pulled away from the stubborn Wolfpack who managed to stay in the game until the final minutes.
Duke led 59-52 and N.C. State had possession with 15:28 to play.
Over the next five minutes of play, Bolden recorded three steals and three blocked shots as the Wolfpack scored just three points.
Just after that, between the 9:51 and 7:37 marks, White scored six Duke points in a row. He dunked off a pass from Barrett, rebounded a Cam Reddish miss to score inside and added a dunk that gave Duke a 73-61 lead.
White also blocked Markell Johnson’s layup attempt at the rim.
“Hopefully that’s a sign of him being who he was the first almost half of the season,” Krzyzewski said.
White hasn’t made a 3-pointer since Jan. 12, missing 18 in a row over the Blue Devils’ last 10 games. He missed his only 3-point shot on Saturday night.
But he still made a big contribution when Duke needed a boost from someone other than Barrett and Williamson.
“He’s been such a good player for us,” Krzyzewski said. “The last month, he’s been ok but he’s been like a shell of who he was. Because he was so good.”
NCAA championship teams need big stars. They also have occasions where they need contributions from role players who come through at key times.
Bolden and White did that against N.C. State, a team that looks like it will be in the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.
Like they did against NC State, Barrett and Williamson will do the heavy lifting if Duke makes a magical run in March and April.
All those former players back in Cameron Saturday night know what that looks like. They also know the importance of guys like White and Bolden.
They got a glimpse of that, too, and this Blue Devils team looked very much like a team ready to win it all at season’s end.