Though there was plenty happening away from the sports world on Tuesday evening, the college basketball season began from coast-to-cast and the centerpiece of the opening slate was a double-header in Indianapolis. The nightcap was a head-to-head battle between the nation’s top two programs in Duke and Kentucky, with expectations sky-high for a contest featuring multiple projected lottery picks and what seemed to be a relatively even battle from a competitive perspective.
After 40 minutes of basketball, however, there wasn’t much in the way of competition, as Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cameron Reddish and the Blue Devils absolutely throttled the Wildcats in front of a national audience. When the dust settled, Duke secured a 118-84 victory and, considering Kentucky actually began the night as a small betting favorite, the level of dominance was rather stunning.
From the opening tip, it was a full-blown wave from Duke, as Mike Krzyzewski’s team came out of the gate flying. Duke used an 18-2 run to take a 29-10 lead and, in retrospect, the game was basically over at that point. The Blue Devils led by as many as 21 in the first half, scored 50 (!) points in the first 16 minutes, and utterly dominated on the strength of a trio of lottery picks.
Williamson, Barrett and Reddish combined for 45 points in the first half, outscoring Kentucky’s entire squad by three, and it was a 20-minute window filled with highlight plays. First, Barrett and Williamson scored their first college baskets in memorable fashion, with the Canadian wing getting to the rim and the social media star stepping out and making his mark on the perimeter.
Barrett then showcased the ability that makes him a prospect often ranked No. 1 in this class.
Not to be outdone, Williamson did what Williamson does, exploding for the first dunk of his college career and casually taking off from a distance not seen by many.
Reddish was, admittedly, quieter in this spot, but that shouldn’t diminish what he was able to accomplish. The talented wing scored 22 points, including three triples, and made his mark with a steal and dunk early in the second half.
In perhaps the most devastating sequence of the night, Williamson followed an already absurd offensive rebound (not pictured) with a ridiculous block and pass in transition, showcasing his full toolbox.
And, finally, Williamson displayed his offensive creation ability, zooming to the rim for yet another jam.
In the end, Kentucky was never able to mount a significant challenge and that was jarring considering the level of talent on the floor for John Calipari’s team. Projected lottery pick Keldon Johnson did produce at a high level to the tune of 23 points but, aside from that, the Wildcats simply couldn’t generate stops defensively against the onslaught of Duke, and couldn’t produce enough offensive to stay within striking distance.
Williamson finished the evening with 28 points on 11-for-13 shooting and seven rebounds, with an effortless quality that was absolutely striking. Barrett also managed to keep pace with 33 points, six assists and four rebounds, setting the stage for what could be a memorable race for the No. 1 overall selection in June’s NBA Draft.
For Kentucky, there will be (much) better nights along the way, and the Wildcats shouldn’t be written off after one flat performance. On the Duke side, though, this was a one-game reminder of the off-the-charts ceiling that exists when arguably the three best players in a high school class join forces on a college floor, and the rest of the country had no choice but to take notice.