Saturday March 21st, 2015

Freshman-laden Duke showed no butterflies in its opening game of the NCAA tournament on Friday, jumping all over Robert Morris in the opening minutes and coasting to an 85-56 win.

The Blue Devils’ high-powered offense was dominant throughout Friday evening’s affair in Charlotte, with Jahlil Okafor, Quinn Cook and company proving too much for the 16th-seeded Colonials to handle. With Robert Morris leading 7-5 several minutes in, No. 1 Duke exploded for a 21-2 run to seize control, with Cook making his first four three-pointers to pace the attack.

The fireworks continued the rest of the night, as Duke ended up hitting 63% of its field goals and 10 of its 21 three-point attempts. The Blue Devils’ stud freshmen, meanwhile, played like veterans in their Big Dance debuts, with Okafor scoring 21 points, Tyus Jones chipping in 10 points and seven assists and Justise Winslow adding a game-high 11 rebounds.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t any teaching moments, though. With Duke holding a 49-32 lead in the opening minutes of the second half, Winslow registered a monster block and the ball made its way to Okafor on the other end of the floor. Instead of going for a simple two, the potential NBA No. 1 pick went for a reverse jam and missed the flush. That enraged head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who pulled Okafor for Marshall Plumlee and had some choice words for his freshman big man on the sideline.

The missed dunk seemed to spark Robert Morris, which followed with a 12-2 run to cut the deficit to 10 points and suddenly make a game out of what was destined to become a blowout.

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But the Blue Devils responded. Re-inserted into the game, Okafor immediately notched an and-one (failing to convert the free throw), Winslow followed with a quick five points and Jones put an exclamation mark on the answer with a three-pointer that sent the partisan Charlotte crowd to its feet. Duke built its lead back to 22 points, effectively sealing the win.

Marcquise Reed scored 22 points and Rodney Pryor had 23 to lead Robert Morris, which shot 36.4% from the floor and was out-rebounded by the Blue Devils 40-28.

The senior Cook, who finished with 22 points, is one of the few current Blue Devils who was around for the painful opening-game exits at the hands of Lehigh in 2012 and Mercer last season. There was no such disappointment this time, and Duke did nothing to dissuade observers that it has a strong chance of advancing out of the South region.

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