DURHAM, N.C. — Oh, boy. That’s going to leave a mark.
The question isn’t how far Duke can go after its 90-60 destruction Saturday of Notre Dame. The No. 4 Blue Devils are dazzling offensively and, when they want to be, extraordinary at the defensive end. If there’s a team out there that’s better equipped to tangle with the many-headed dragon known as Kentucky … well, let’s just stop right there. Because there isn’t one.
No, all the questions now are about the 10th-ranked Irish. Was their victory over the Blue Devils 11 days earlier in South Bend a mirage? Still 21-4 overall and 9-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, are their days as a league contender pretty much over? And forget about how far they can go — after a beating like this, will Mike Brey’s team be able to pick itself up, dust itself off and take a single step in the right direction?
“That was a thorough beating,” Brey said. “They played fabulous. They were great. … It was one of those where you’re hanging on for dear life.”
Sorry if that’s a little dramatic, but ask the Irish how over-the-top this experience was.
In Notre Dame’s first appearance at Cameron Indoor Stadium since Brey was a Mike Krzyzewski assistant over two decades ago, it was loud, adversarial and intimidating, and that was just for the out-of-town reporters wedged between the Cameron Crazies and the court. For the Irish, it had to be pretty mind-blowing. They jumped ahead 6-0 on three-pointers by Steve Vasturia and Pat Connaughton, then watched, no doubt awestruck, as Duke (20-3, 7-3 ACC) tore off a spectacular run of — are you ready for this? — 43-7.
Making it all the more impressive, the Blue Devils made much of that happen with superstar center Jahlil Okafor glued to the bench with two early fouls. It was 17-9 when the expected No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft — who’d said his team “gave away” the first meeting with the Irish — went out. Duke finished the half 33-15 without him. The Blue Devils shot an amazing 81 percent from the field in the half and made all but one of their eight three-point attempts.
“That’s the best half we’ve played this season,” Krzyzewski said.
Notre Dame was without its own star, Jerian Grant, for nearly the entire first half — in a manner of speaking, anyway. Grant, who dominated the first meeting with 23 points, 12 assists and six rebounds, didn’t score until sinking a free throw nearly 19 minutes in.
“I would think the atmosphere here, as many atmospheres as [the Irish] have been in, it probably knocked them back on their heels,” Brey said.
Okafor was brilliant in the second half and finished with a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds. But he got such help — 19 and 11 from fellow freshman Justise Winslow, 17 points from reserve Matt Jones, 12 points and a smooth seven assists from freshman Tyus Jones — that there was no way to leave this place without an understanding of how well-rounded the Blue Devils are.
Duke has won at least 20 games in 30 seasons, including 19 in a row, under Krzyzewski, for whom Brey worked from 1987 to ’95. The Irish head next to Clemson for a game Tuesday night.
“I would hope and I would think, given the leaders I have on this team, that they’ll be energized to bounce back,” Brey said.