Duke Outslugs Kentucky, Agbaji Shines for Jayhawks
NEW YORK – Games like this are normally played later in the season when the stakes are higher.
But college basketball fans will take it nonetheless.
The 2021-22 season tipped off Nov. 9 at Madison Square Garden with the 11th annual Champions Classic with Duke and Kansas both picking up victories to get their seasons underway in front of 18,132 spectators.
The event, also marked the opening game of what will the final season for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final season at the school and the legendary coach was honored
Prior to tipoff of the two games it was announced the Champions Classic will continue to be the marquee event to start the college basketball season through 2025.
The event, which includes Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State each year, will be played in Indianapolis next year with Kentucky and Michigan playing in one game and Duke taking on Kansas in the other. The sites for the event in 2023-25 are yet to be determined.
DUKE 79, KENTUCKY 71
The game was reminiscent of a heavyweight prize fight. And rightfully so as Duke, ranked No. 9 in the preseason poll, outlasted No. 10 Kentucky 79-71.
The winners of a combined 13 national championships in the history of the two storied programs, the Blue Devils and Wildcats went toe-to-toe for much of the game as each team seemed to come up with the right play at the right time. The game saw eight lead changes, including five in a span of 69 seconds early in the second half before Duke managed to begin to pull away.
Jeremy Roach gave Duke by converting a Kentucky turnover for an easy layup at the other end of the floor to give the Blue Devils a 49-48 advantage with 15:34 left in the game.
It turned out to be a lead Duke would not relinquish the rest of the way.
The Blue Devils, behind the play of talented freshmen Trevor Keels and Paolo Banchero, managed to extend the Duke lead to 69-54 on a step-back jumper from Banchero from just outside the paint with 9:19 remaining in the game.
But Kentucky would not go away quietly.
The Wildcats responded by going on an 11-0 run over a span of just over three minutes to close to within 69-65 on a traditional 3-point play from Oscar Tschiebwe to set the stage for the final 6:07 of the game. Tschiebwe scored seven points during that run and added four rebounds to help spark his team’s rally.
Keels put an end to the Kentucky comeback bid with a layup with 4:46 left in the game. Keels added for more points in the closing minutes and Banchero added four more points of his own to keep the Wildcats at bay.
“It was an amazing game that felt so good with the Garden crowd and playing against an outstanding team’s Krzyzewski said after his team picked up the win in the opener. “(Kentucky) is tough and we are tough. That was a big-time game. Really big time.”
Keels finished with a game-high 25 points for the Blue Devils and Banchero chipped in with 22 points of his own. Wendell Moore Jr. also reached double digits with 12 points in the game Duke.
Banchero also finished with seven rebounds, along with Roach and Mark Williams, who also grabbed seven caroms. Roach, whose seven rebounds marked a career-high, finished the game with six points and Williams added five points in the game along with three blocked shots.
Tshiebwe finished with 17 points and an impressive 19 rebounds to lead the Wildcats, who also got 16 points and 10 assists from Sahvir Wheeler. Keion Brooks, TyTy Washington and Kellan Grady all chipped in with nine points in the game for Kentucky.
Duke returns to action Nov. 12 when the Blue Devils entertain Army at Cameron Indoor Stadium on the Duke campus. Krzysewski spent five years at coach of the Black Knights (1975-80) and led his teams to a 73-59 record before taking over the Duke program in 1980,
Kentucky, meanwhile, opens its home schedule Nov. 12 when the Wildcats play host to Robert Morris.
KANSAS 87, MICHIGAN STATE 74
The kinks normally associated with a season-opening game took some time to be ironed out. But in the end it was Kansas that managed to make more of the necessary adjustments on the fly.
The result was a strong second half that propelled the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks to an 87-74 win over the Spartans in the opening game of the Champions Classic.
It was the third straight win for the Jayhawks in the series with Michigan State.
Ochai Agbaji scored a career-high 29 points and led three Kansas players in double figures, to give KU its sixth win in 11 games at the annual Champions Classic. Remy Martin, a transfer from Arizona State, scored finished with 15 points, all in the second half, and David McCormack added 10 points for the Jayhawks.
Christian Braun tallied a game-high eight rebounds for the Jayhawks and DaJuan Harris topped KU with four assists in the contest.
Agbaji, who nearly bypassed his final season at Kansas to enter the NBA Draft, before deciding to return to Lawrence for another season connected on nine of 17 shots from the floor in the game. The Jayhawks ended the game with 31 of 64 shooting on the night.
The two teams combined for 10 lead changes in the first half but it was the Jayhawks who held a 39-32 lead at the intermission thanks in large part to 12 points coming off 11 Michigan State turnovers in the opening half. The Spartans finished with 16 turnovers in the contest and the Jayhawks outscored MSU 16-8 off miscues.
A dunk from McCormack with 6:06 left in the game gave Kansas its biggest lead of the game at 71-66 and the Spartans never seriously challenged the rest of the way.
Kansas also got solid play from freshmen Zach Clemence and Bobby Pettiford Jr. in the first half. Clemence finished with seven points in the game, all in the first half, and Pettiford scored three points in first half and ended with five points in his first collegiate action.
Michigan State placed four players in double figures in scoring.
A.J. Hoggard finished with a team-high 17 points in the game while Julius Marble tallied 13 points. Marcus Bingham Jr. and Gabe Brown each added 10 points for the Spartans. Marble, Brown and Joey Hauser, who was held to just eight points, all grabbed seven rebounds to lead MSU.
Kansas is home for its next two games. The Jayhawks are scheduled to play Tarleton State on Nov. 12 at Allen Field House and will play Stony Brook on Nov. 12. Michigan State entertains Western Michigan Nov. 12 before playing at Butler on Nov. 17
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.