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Duke Opens Coach K's Final Season With Impressive Champions Classic Win Over Kentucky

There would no rocky first step by No. 9 Duke as Mike Krzyzewski's farewell season officially began Tuesday night.

The Blue Devils showed off their flashy new additions and kept a late push by No. 10 Kentucky at bay to walk away with a 79–71 win at Madison Square Garden in the second of two Champions Classic games on college basketball's opening day.

The night belonged to Duke freshman stars Trevor Keels and Paolo Banchero, who combined for 47 points on 17-for-29 shooting. Banchero overcame some sort of cramps or leg soreness in the second half to see out the game, showing off the pure abilities that made him the No. 2 recruit in the SI99 and finishing with a 22-point, seven-rebound, two-steal stat line. Keels, meanwhile, wasn't quite as heralded as Banchero heading into his college career, but made it clear immediately that he's perhaps just as vital a piece to this squad, with a scoring ability that will make him a handful for defenses all season long.

Duke's Paolo Banchero

Banchero (No. 5) had 22 points in his collegiate debut.

Keels also made the Blue Devils' only three of the game, with the team overall having a cold night from the perimeter (1 for 13) despite outshooting the Wildcats overall from the floor. Defensively, Duke set the tone with nine steals as part of 13 UK turnovers.

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Kentucky largely kept itself in the game through offensive rebounding, with transfer big man Oscar Tshiebwe grabbing 12 alone (19 total by the junior) in his Wildcats debut to create several second-chance opportunities for himself and his team. But touted freshman guard TyTy Washington Jr. struggled from the field, making just 3 of his 14 shots, and point guard Sahvir Wheeler turned the ball over seven times despite posting a double double on the night (16 points, 10 assists). 

After some back-and-forth to open the second half, Duke looked like it might pull away for an easy win in front of the frenzied MSG crowd. But the Wildcats, to their credit, made things interesting late, clawing to within four with six minutes remaining. But Keels and Banchero were there again to answer, scoring eight of the final 10 Blue Devils points to put the victory away.

"A lot of our guys grew up today," Krzyzewski told ESPN's Holly Rowe afterward. "We're real young. When Kentucky made that run, a lot of teams would fold. And we got tough again. I'm very, very proud of them."

After the marquee opening, both teams get a bit of a break now as the season gets underway in full. Duke hosts Army on Friday and next meets a high-level opponent on Nov. 26, when it takes on No. 1 Gonzaga in Las Vegas. Kentucky plays Robert Morris in Lexington on Friday and doesn't again face a power conference team until Dec. 11, when Notre Dame kicks off a run of key games for John Calipari's squad.

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