Blue Devils are red-hot|No. 1 Duke wins 20th straight game

Published 11:39 am Sunday, December 12, 2010

By By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer
DURHAM — Nolan Smith came off a screen and found nobody there to stop him, so he swooped in from the wing and soared for a highlight-reel dunk.
He’s the one handling the ball for Duke these days, but that doesn’t mean he can’t create some shots for himself, too.
Smith scored 15 of his 22 points in the first half and the top-ranked Blue Devils routed Saint Louis 84-47 Saturday to claim their 20th straight win.
Smith is ‘‘getting more comfortable running the point guard position, and the coaches have been telling me, once I give it up, they want me to stay in scoring mindset,’’ he said. ‘‘Just attacking, looking to make plays — kind of like (Jon Scheyer) did last year. That’s what they’re telling me to do.’’
Kyle Singler added 21 points for Duke (10-0), which shot 53 percent, turned 22 turnovers into 31 points and took command with an overwhelming early run.
Mike Krzyzewski moved within one victory of North Carolina’s Dean Smith for second place on the men’s all-time wins list. Coach K has 878 career victories, and can tie his former longtime rival on Dec. 20 against Elon and pass him nine days later at North Carolina-Greensboro. The only man ahead of them is Krzyzewski’s coach and mentor, Bob Knight, who has 902 wins.
‘‘When you come to Duke and play for Coach K, it’s always in the back of your mind — what’s coach about to pass next?’’ Smith quipped. ‘‘He’s always about to pass something.’’
Freshman Mike McCall scored 15 points for Saint Louis (3-4), which had four freshmen combine to turn it over 18 times and in the first half had twice as many turnovers (14) as field goals (seven).
‘‘My assistant said we had four freshmen in and an walk-on — that’s not a good mix to come into this situation,’’ Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus said.
Freshman Josh Hairston had a season-high 12 points and Seth Curry added 11 points and three 3-pointers for the Blue Devils, who faced little resistance in extending a few of their winning streaks, including the overall one that includes last season’s run to Krzyzewski’s fourth NCAA championship. The reigning national champions won their 25th straight at Cameron Indoor Stadium and their 83rd in a row at home against nonconference opponents.
Smith regained the scoring touch that seemed to escape him last time out, when the Blue Devils played for the first time without injured point guard Kyrie Irving, who’s out indefinitely after injuring a toe on his right foot last week against Butler. That left Smith as the primary ballhandler, and in a rout of Bradley, the senior co-captain finished with a career-best 10 assists but had just two points on 0-for-8 shooting.
He had no such shooting troubles this time. Smith was 8 of 13 and provided the defining play with his tomahawk dunk with about 8 1/2 minutes left in the first half that made it 19-6 and brought the Cameron Crazies to their feet.
‘‘Nolan Smith turned a corner on us,’’ Majerus said.
This was the Blue Devils’ second game without Irving, the flashy freshman whose 17.4-point average leads the team, and he spent the afternoon on the bench with a hard cast on his foot.
‘‘Certainly, with Kyrie going down, it changes our team,’’ said associate head coach Chris Collins, who filled in for Krzyzewski at the postgame news conference because team officials said Coach K left to deal with an unspecified family matter.
‘‘He was such a dynamic player when he had the ball, and we opened the floor and we kind of played off him doing his thing. Now, we have to change the way we do things, especially offensively, and a lot of that is predicated on those two guys (Smith and Singler) being really aggressive.’’
School officials say there’s no timetable for his return, and Collins said there weren’t any updates yet on Irving’s condition. Krzyzewski previously said he hopes to learn more about the guard’s status in the next week or so.
The good news for Duke is, they probably won’t need Irving for a while — at least, if an unofficial online replication of the RPI formula is any guide.
Saint Louis was at No. 264 according to one RPI-simulating website, and in their two remaining games this month Elon is No. 267 and UNC Greensboro is No. 295.
And Majerus came away from this one convinced that the Blue Devils didn’t seem to miss Irving.
‘‘They won 84-47. … What, was the spread more than that? I don’t even know,’’ Majerus said. ‘‘Did they cover the spread for you? I’m not trying to be a smart aleck, but I thought they did real well today. Anybody think they didn’t? I was on the other end of that ’real well,’ so from a firsthand experience, they did great.’’
The Blue Devils turned the first half into what seemed like one 20-minute-long run. Duke outscored the Billikens 25-4 during a stretch of nearly 11 minutes and allowed only two field goals in a span of roughly 13 minutes.
‘‘Saint Louis is a team that shoots the ball pretty well, and even though they made some buckets, I thought our (defense) was good throughout the whole game, contested shots, made them turn the ball over,’’ Singler said. ‘‘That’s going to be something we’ll have to do now, even at a higher level, now that Kyrie’s out and we’re going to have to focus on our defense.’’