The biggest question coming into Duke’s first game of the season was how its four starting freshmen would perform in their first college basketball game.
The answer: Not bad.
Freshmen starters Marvin Bagley III, Trevon Duval, Wendell Carter Jr. and Gary Trent Jr. scored 58 of Duke’s 97 points Friday night in a 97-68 win over Elon. Alex O’Connell, a freshman guard who came off the bench, also added 8 points.
“We have a lot of those,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said jokingly, when asked how he thought his freshmen played. “They didn’t play nervous. That’s why we like playing those exhibition games. You’re not going to be nervous in a scrimmage. The first game against Northwest Missouri State, we were nervous for about 10 minutes. And since then they were right there.
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“Marvin played fabulously and Grayson (Allen) came out and just lit it up.”
Elon (0-1) had trouble stopping Bagley. He was the game’s leading scorer with 25 points, scoring on an array of dunks and low-post moves. He added 10 rebounds and was 12-for-18 from the floor.
The Blue Devils (1-0) came into the season, highly touted, with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class and some huge expectations. The league’s coaches and media picked Duke as the preseason No. 1 team in the country in the USA Today and AP polls. But that was the case last year, and unfortunately for Duke it didn’t end well, with a loss in the second round of the NCAA tournament to South Carolina.
This team is a much different team, however. Better? That remains to be seen. But the Blue Devils got out to a nice start on Friday.
Duval, who was one of three players coming off a one-game suspension for missing classes and tardinesss, provides a different dynamic for Duke. He’s a true point guard, something the Blue Devils lacked last season. He pushed the ball up the floor and often found players in transition for open 3-point shots and easy dunks. He took care of the basketball and finished with eight assists and zero turnovers.
“First real game, I just enjoy playing with everybody, and it’s always fun to be winning, so I had a good time,” Duval said.
Duval at point guard allowed Allen to move without the ball and make open shots. Allen, like Krzyzewski, said the freshmen didn’t appear nervous in their first game.
“I thought they played poised and confident,” he said. “They all did what they do best. I mean Tre (Duval) defended. He did a great job on their point guard and found guys. Marvin was everywhere like he always is, and Gary was just scoring the ball. It’s not much more you can ask for from them.”
Trent finished with 17 points and was 4-for-5 from behind the 3-point line. Carter, who had to sit early in the first half due to foul trouble, finished with 8 points and 6 rebounds in 16 minutes.
It’s true that more than half of Duke’s main rotation will consist of freshman. The only player who played significant minutes last season was Allen, so the Blue Devils will have to lean on their freshmen.
Krzyzewski said he hopes this team will find its own identity.
“I’m trying not to over-coach them, so we learn what being on stage does,” he said. “With guys that I’ve coached, you already know. But I don’t want to put too much in. I mean we have to have some structure, but it’s like with Marvin. You get him the ball low, something good is going to happen. Or something good can happen.”
He said the players get along well, and Allen enjoys playing with them.
“They enjoy playing, and I don’t want to make it too heavy for them,” he said.
Duke’s next two games will be big tests. It plays Utah Valley State (0-1) on Saturday, which led Kentucky by nine points at halftime before losing 73-63 on Friday night.
And then on Tuesday it plays No. 2 Michigan State (1-0). For that game too, Krzyzewski said Duke will likely be without sophomore center Marques Bolden, who missed practice this week and Friday’s game with a severe case of strep throat.
“We’ve got to get him well,” Krzyzewski said. “With Wendell getting in foul trouble and him out, that’s not the dynamic we want.”