Long Beach State’s brutal non-conference schedule ends with what may be its toughest test of all - a trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Duke has won 74 consecutive home games outside of ACC play.
The seventh-ranked Blue Devils emerge from a 10-day Christmas break on Tuesday night to face the 49ers, who already have lost to three top-10 opponents while navigating one of the nation’s toughest early slates.
Duke has the nation’s longest active streak of non-conference home wins, but the team’s most impressive victory of the season came at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19.
The Blue Devils (9-1) dominated then-No. 15 Gonzaga in a 76-41 win, holding the Bulldogs to 27.8 percent shooting. Gonzaga managed just 17 points in the first half as Duke built a double-digit lead that kept on growing after the break.
“Against a top team like that, to put together a defensive effort like that let’s us know even if we have an off game we can score 50 points and win a game,” guard Nolan Smith said.
Outstanding guard play from Smith and senior Jon Scheyer also buoyed the Blue Devils. The duo combined for 44 points, with Smith going 3 of 3 from 3-point range while Scheyer added eight assists with his 20 points.
Scheyer continues to easily lead the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, with 59 assists and 10 turnovers in 10 games, although Duke doesn’t necessarily classify him as a point guard.
“Jon is just a really smart, good player,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He doesn’t have position. He is just a good basketball player.”
Regardless of terminology, he presents another challenge in a season full of them for Long Beach State, which will be playing a second straight game in a historic venue after losing 86-73 on Wednesday at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena.
The 49ers (6-6) were tied 37-37 with the third-ranked Wildcats at halftime, but they were unable to contain Kentucky after the break.
Long Beach State already had faced two other teams that remain unbeaten and in the top 10, losing to West Virginia and Texas. The team also lost to then-No. 19 Clemson on Nov. 27, and it hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since an 84-83 win over No. 25 New Mexico State on Feb. 24, 1994.
“I just feel like our preseason is truly a preseason,” coach Dan Monson said. “It’s for us to get better. We’re only going to get better. We are only going to get one (NCAA tournament) bid out of (the Big West) this year and we need to get it. We need to use our preseason to challenge us.”
This will be the 49ers’ final game before they begin conference play Saturday at UC Riverside. In order to stay with Duke, they’ll likely need an improvement from leading scorer T.J. Robinson, who was held to 13 points on a season-worst 27.8 percent shooting (5 of 18) against Kentucky.
The forward will square off against a Duke frontcourt that includes junior Kyle Singler, who also struggled offensively in his last game. Singler was 0 of 5 from 3-point range against Gonzaga, finishing with nine points.
It was the fifth time in 47 games since the start of last season that Singler was held to single digits. He is 5 of 22 (22.7 percent) from beyond the arc in his last six games.
The programs’ only previous meeting was a 79-78 win for then-No. 5 Duke over 15th-ranked Long Beach State on Jan. 5, 1979, in Raleigh.