NEW YORK — Mike Krzyzewski was presented a framed plaque of his accomplishments at the Champions Classic an hour and a half before his Duke team took the floor at Madison Square Garden.
A few hours later, he left the Garden with something he wanted much more: a season-opening win over Kentucky.
The No. 9 Blue Devils (1-0) withstood the No. 11 Wildcats for a 79-71 victory Tuesday night to begin Coach K’s farewell tour in the win column.
It was Krzyzewski’s 45th opening win in 47 seasons as a head coach and pushed his season-opening win streak to 22 games. He leaves MSG for the final time with a 34-11 overall record.
It was no surprise that it was freshmen talent that led to the win over Kentucky, but the name atop Duke’s scoring leaders raised an eyebrow.
Guard Trevor Keels finished with a game-high 25 points, scoring 16 points in the second half to help stave off Kentucky’s comeback attempt.
“I just want to win,” Keels said. “I kept looking at the score and I just made sure we were still winning.”
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Freshman forward Paolo Banchero, the potential first overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft, was also as good as advertised, scoring 22 points in his Duke debut despite spending three minutes in the locker room during the second half with cramps.
According to Krzyzewski, four players suffered cramps during the game and Banchero was given an IV in the locker room.
“We wanted to get this win, especially for Coach,” Banchero said. “We had a chance to make a statement in this game and I’m happy with the way we played.”
Kentucky (0-1) was led by Oscar Tshiebwe, who finished with 17 points and dominated the glass with 12 offensive boards. Sahvir Wheeler added 16 points and 10 assists in the loss.
Even in victory, Duke had its issues. The Blue Devils hit only 1 of 13 attempts from the 3-point line and were outrebounded by a smaller Kentucky team. Both teams look much improved, though, after missing the NCAA Tournament last season.
Duke held a 39-35 halftime lead despite being outworked on the boards and struggling from beyond the arc as the frontcourt of Mark Williams and Banchero picked up two fouls apiece.
The lead ballooned to 67-54 midway through the second half before the Wildcats went on a 13-2 run to cut the score to 69-65.
Keels and Banchero combined to score Duke’s next eight points to hand Kentucky the season-opening loss.
David Thompson is an award-winning reporter for the USA Today Network covering NC State and Duke athletics. He can be reached at email@example.com, at 828-231-1747, or on Twitter at @daveth89.