INDIANAPOLIS (KT) — A highly-anticipated Top 5 showdown on college basketball’s opening night wasn’t even close.
Second-ranked Kentucky fell behind early and never fully recovered in a stunning 118-84 loss to No. 4 Duke Tuesday night in the State Farm Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The final tally by the Blue Devils set a Champions Classic record and the margin of victory also was the largest in the four-day event.
“They were just better than us,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “I told them that I got out coached, you guys got out played, we’ll watch the tape and move on.”
Duke has now won five of eight games in the prestigious event, while Kentucky has split eight games, including two setbacks to the Blue Devils in the classic.
Duke, which reached the century mark with seven minutes remaining, has enjoyed success in Indianapolis and won three of its five national titles in Indiana’s state capitol. The Blue Devils have also won a pair of national championships in Minneapolis, site of this year’s Final Four.
“I thought we played great,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We played great. I’m really proud of my guys. When you start four freshmen, no matter how talented they are, you don’t know what they are going to do in this environment against an outstanding team and a great program. And they responded. They were magnificent tonight.”
Duke (1-0) eclipsed the century mark in both of its exhibition games and led by as many as 21 points in the first half against the Wildcats.
Blue Devils guard RJ Barrett led all scorers with 33 points and connected on three of the teams 12 3-pointers in the contest. Zion Williamson followed with 28 points and Cam Reddish added 22. Barrett tallied 20 points, while Reddish and Williamson combined for 25 points in the opening half.
Kentucky (0-1) simply wasn’t ready for the big stage, despite rolling past three experienced teams in the Bahamas in August and a pair of exhibition victories during the past two weeks. The Wildcats will go back to the drawing board and learn from an eye-opening experience in the opener.
Keldon Johnson led the Wildcats with 23 points, followed by Reid Travis with 22 and Tyler Herro with 14. Johnson prevented the Wildcats from suffering a complete implosion in the opening half with 15 points.
Travis said the Wildcats “didn’t get the job done” in the season opener.
“I don’t know if it was the moment, the hype, but it just wasn’t a game for us tonight,” he said. “I think as we go back and watch the film, we’ll get better. I love our group of guys and everyone does want to get better. You can tell that this hurt because we do care. I think we are going to really watch the film and get better from this.”
Johnson gave the Wildcats a spark early and scored six of the team’s first 8 points. Duke opened on a tear and led 20-8 with 13:20 remaining in the first half. Duke connected on four 3-pointers on six attempts, with Cam Reddish providing the offense with six points and a pair of 3-pointers.
Kentucky got 15 points from its bench, led by EJ Montgomery with eight points, Montgomery scored six points in the opening half.
Calipari said the loss will be an early learning experience for his squad.
“We all need to do some soul searching here and figure this out,” he said. “I’ve done this a long time and I have had guys struggle. What happens with young guys when they struggle is that they get a little rattled, so you have to be careful that you are teaching. You have to get them to play in a way that they can have success. My teams have taken some losses, where I have told them not to foul. We are getting out of this gym in three minutes and thirty seconds, don’t you foul. We just keep marching on.”
In the opening game of the doubleheader, top-ranked Kansas defeated No. 10 Michigan State 92-87 to win their third straight game in the four-team event. Quentin Grimes paced the Jayhawks (1-0) with 21 points in his collegiate debut. Derrick Lawson chipped in with 20 points and 14 rebounds.
Joshua Langford paced Michigan State with 18 points, while Kenny Goins followed with 17 points and 11 boards. Michigan State fell to 4-21 against top-ranked teams.
KUDOS FOR COACH ‘K’
Krzyzewski is in his 39th season as coach of the Blue Devils, a trend Calipari said likely won’t be duplicated in the future.
“I don’t think you’ll be seeing anybody going 40 years anymore,” Calipari said. “It’s just a different environment. Those guys that did it and were able to sustain because it’s not just keeping your job; you’ve got to have success. And then you’ve got to have success over different eras, which things change. How about this? The game changes.”
Calipari added Krzyzewski’s longevity is a credit to his ability to adapt to changes in the game during the past four decades.
“The game seems to be changing about every five years now,” he said. “You can’t say, ‘I’m going to coach the same way as I did when I first got started.’ And I’m not only saying your temperament or your personality coaching, I’m talking about how you’re playing defensively. What are you teaching? So when you look at what he’s done over generations and that he’s maintained that level of excellence, it’s amazing to me.”
Gametracker: Southern Illinois at Kentucky, 7 p.m. Friday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.