Nolan Smith's Career Night Burns Blazers as Duke Routs UAB
The senior point guard gave them one anyway.
Smith scored a career-best 33 points as top-ranked Duke (14-0) hammered UAB (10-3) 85-64 in Cameron Indoor Stadium Wednesday night.
The knockout punch came in as heavy as it was quick. After UAB 's Jamarr Sanders hit a 3-pointer to open the scoring, Duke reeled off a 26-1 blitz that gave the Blue Devils all the breathing room they would need to win their 85th-straight home game against non-conference opponents and 24th straight game overall.
Naturally, it was you-know-who kickstarting the run.
Smith scored a dozen of Duke's first 26 points and finished the first half with 20 points, the second time in three games he scored 20 or more in the opening period.
For a team whose biggest concern is the health of freshman star Kyrie Irving's toe, it was Smith who once again got Duke off on the right foot. His 33 points set a career high, but just continued a trend of scoreboard stuffing. Smith is averaging 26.2 points per game over his last four contests.
Smith eclipsed his previous mark of 29 points with a SportsCenter slam in the second half, blowing past his defender and throwing home a hammer of a dunk as four Blazers looked on.
Smith added five assists, seven rebounds and two steals.
Fellow senior Kyle Singler scored 15 for the Blue Devils. Mason Plumlee chipped in 14.
UAB's Aaron Johnson, who led the nation with 8.3 assists per game entering the game, picked up seven more against an up and down Duke defense, but fouled out with 7:52 to play.
If Duke's first big run sent the Blazers to the mat, it didn't knock them out of the ring. UAB hung with Duke most of the rest of the way, chipping the lead down to 14 on several occasions in the first and second half, but could get no closer.
Sanders led the Blazers, who were held to 39 percent shooting, with 21 points.
The Takeaway: It's not just the points piling up that should have Duke so excited about Nolan Smith, it's the Costco-sized amount of confidence he's playing with. Krzyzewski tried Smith at the point during his sophomore year, in an effort to kickstart an offense that had stalled under Greg Paulus. Smith wasn't much of an answer either as his decision-making didn't match his athleticism. So, Krzyzewski moved Jon Scheyer to the point, whose absolute refusal to turn the ball over eventually keyed Duke's effective, grinding offense a year later. If Smith continues to effectively handle the duties of scorer and lead guard without getting bogged down by having to do too much for team, the Blue Devils are again a clear national title favorite. Smith isn't exactly as elusive or as fast in the open court as Irving, but his ability to break down a defense in the half-court makes guarding Duke a difficult proposition. Even if you stop Smith, the Blue Devils have a cache of 3-point shooters waiting on the wings. An effective Smith is the difference between an aggressive drive-and-kick offense versus a pass-around-the-perimeter team.
Granted, the level of competition Smith has faced in his point guard renaissance isn't exactly NCAA tournament quality, but Smith's numbers speak for themselves. Should Irving return, the Blue Devils will be in even better shape.
How It Was Won: The early run 26-1 run was all the breathing room Duke needed.
How It Was Lost: The slow start doomed UAB, but the Blazers just weren't quite fast enough to stay in front of Smith or big enough to keep Mason Plumlee away from the basket. After the 26-1 run, however, UAB played as good of a game as Mike Davis might have hoped for.
What We Didn't Like: Fouls on key players. Miles Plumlee picked up his fourth foul 40 seconds into the second half against a team Duke had a notable size advantage against. Knowing when to be aggressive defensively has been a problem for the Brothers Plumlee in their Duke careers, and the junior Miles should know better. Against some of the elite post players in the ACC, wasted fouls could be problematic. For UAB, Johnson had the misfortune of defending Smith for much of the night, but his fourth foul ended any hope of a late push.
Duke's defensive intensity will give Krzyzewski a few items for film review as well.
The Bonus: The last time Mike Davis coached against a defending national champion Duke team, the result wasn't nearly so cheery for the Blue Devils. Indiana upset top-seed Duke in the Sweet 16 in 2002 as the Blue Devils were trying to defend their crown. Of course, that game was in a slightly more hostile locale -- Rupp Arena. Davis and the Hoosiers went on to the national championship game and lost to Maryland, the Blue Devils' opponent Sunday.