ACC Basketball: Duke 77, Belmont 76
By Joedy McCreary
DURHAM ó The wins keep piling up for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. They just never seem to come easy against Belmont.
The sixth-ranked Blue Devils held off the pesky Bruins 77-76 on Friday night in the first round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational to move Krzyzewski within one victory of tying Bob Knight atop the Division I menís career list.
Austin Rivers ó one of three Blue Devils making his college debut ó and Seth Curry both scored 16 points. Duke (1-0), which has just one senior on the roster, shot 43 percent, hit nine 3-pointers and overcame 19 turnovers to avoid its first nonconference home loss since 2000 and put its Hall of Fame coach one step closer to history.
ěOnce the game pressure was on us, we grew up a lot tonight,î Krzyzewski said. ěYou canít practice situations like that. Good teams put you in those situations, and Belmontís just a really good basketball team.î
Krzyzewski started his 37th season as a head coach by improving his record to 901-284. He can match his college coach and mentorís record Saturday when Duke plays host to Presbyterian.
Kerron Johnson scored 15 points for Belmont (0-1), which shot 47 percent and erased nearly all of a 16-point deficit but fell to 0-3 against ACC opponents. Still, Krzyzewski compared the Bruins to the Butler team his Blue Devils beat in the 2010 national championship game because of their depth and maturity.
ěWhen your team can come into Cameron Indoor Stadium and make that kind of a comeback … and almost win the game, then as I just told (the players), weíre no worse a team because we lost by one than we would have been had we won,î Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. ěWeíd have been a lot happier if we had won by one, but the teamís the same. The two points are nothing.
ěIf thatís a Top 10 team and we went on the road in their gym and played them to one point, then we can be a Top 25 team for sure,î he added. ěI hope they believe that.î
Mason Plumlee had 13 points and 14 rebounds for Duke, which extended a few winning streaks at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils won their NCAA-best 36th straight home game, their 29th straight home opener and their 87th in a row at home against nonconference opponents.
But this one wasnít at all easy for the Blue Devils.
Belmont, which returns four starters from a team that made its fourth NCAA tournament appearance since 2006, erased most of a 16-point deficit in the second half and pulled to 72-71 on Ian Clarkís three-point play with 51 seconds left.
Andre Dawkins followed with a long 3-pointer with about 20 seconds left to put Duke up by four. After Johnson raced down court for a layup with 9.5 seconds left to make it 75-73, Ryan Kelly followed with two free throws with 7.1 seconds left to restore the Blue Devilsí four-point lead.
ěI think everybody on the floor made a big play tonight,î Mason Plumlee said. ěIt was a collection of guys. We kind of did it by committee, and thatís how itís going to have to be. Thatís a good thing.î
Clark hit a 3 at the buzzer.
The latest close call against Belmont kept Krzyzewski on track to break Knightís mark next Tuesday night against Michigan State at Madison Square Garden.
None of the current players were around when the teams met in the first round of the 2008 NCAA tournament ó when No. 2 seed Duke needed a basket from Gerald Henderson with 11.9 seconds left to beat the 15th-seeded Bruins 71-70 and dodge one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.
This Duke team looked at times like a work in progress as it learned to play without three key players who combined for more than half of the teamís points last season. Without them, these Blue Devils ó whose lone senior is forward Miles Plumlee ó looked like the young team they are.
Yet they also showed flashes of potential ó such as the 12-0 run early in the second half that gave them their biggest lead. Curry, Rivers and Tyler Thornton each hit 3s during the burst, with Thorntonís making it 53-37 with about 141/2 minutes left.