Nelson, No. 6 Duke cruise past Albany 111-70
DURHAM, N.C. (AP)—DeMarcus Nelson has seen No. 1 rankings and Atlantic Coast Conference championships during his career at Duke, experience that has made him probably the Blue Devils’ most valuable player on a young squad.
And though he’s content to let teammates grab the headlines, the senior showed Monday night he still can power the Blue Devils’ fast-paced offense.
Nelson had 23 points and sixth-ranked Duke turned in a sharp offensive performance after an exam break to beat Albany 111-70, improving the Blue Devils to 10-0 for the sixth time in eight seasons.
Reserve Jon Scheyer added 18 points for the Blue Devils, who shot 60 percent and quickly turned this game into a rout. Duke had five players score in double figures and hit 15 of 26 3-pointers, continuing its strong outside shooting of recent games.
The Great Danes (5-5), an NCAA tournament participant last season, fell behind by double figures in the first 6 minutes and trailed by 26 points at halftime.
It was a solid overall effort before facing No. 11 Pittsburgh on Thursday night in New York, and it gave Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski his 785th career victory to move within a game of tying Lefty Driesell for sixth on the all-time list.
Leading the way was Nelson, who had yet to lead the Blue Devils in scoring all season before Monday.
“I thought DeMarcus played very, very well, but he has been,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s been our most consistent excellent player. It’s just that his thing goes below the radar because this freshman did this or this guy’s doing that. … DeMarcus has been the solid one.”
Nelson went 6-for-7 from the field, including 4-for-5 from 3-point range, to go with six rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in 26 minutes. The 23 points were one shy of tying a career-high for the 6-foot-4 swingman, who had seen his scoring average dip from 14.1 last season to 11.7 coming in.
“I try not to put too much emphasis on scoring even though I can score and I will score,” Nelson said. “I just try to go out there and be a player and whatever the play is to make it. And at the end of the game, I think the performance will speak for itself.”
The Blue Devils hadn’t played since beating Michigan 95-67 on Dec. 8, but they showed little rust from their layoff despite playing without starter Lance Thomas, who sat out with a sprained ankle. Nelson got Duke off and running, hitting a driving shot and a 3-pointer in the first 2 minutes en route to 16 points in the half.
“He makes so many plays for other guys and gets other guys shots,” Scheyer said of the Blue Devils’ lone scholarship senior. “When guys don’t help on him, he can score and that’s what he did tonight.”
But Nelson wasn’t alone. Eight players scored in the first half while Duke shot 20-for-33 (61 percent) and went 9-for-14 from behind the arc to build a 57-31 lead. Scheyer scored 10 points in a span of just more than 2 minutes after the break—including consecutive 3s—to give Duke a 78-46 lead with 12:49 left.
The Blue Devils poured it on the rest of the way, cracking the century mark on Nelson’s free throw that made it 100-57 with about 6 minutes left.
The Blue Devils’ biggest struggles came at the foul line, where Duke went 20-of-34 (59 percent). Nelson went just 7-for-13, though he made his last four attempts.
Tim Ambrose scored a career-best 24 points for the Great Danes, who shot 47 percent for the game and took a 36-31 edge on the glass. But while Duke’s aggressive defense had some letdowns that the players attributed to the break, it still harassed Albany’s ballhandlers into 21 turnovers that the Blue Devils converted into 32 points.
“The thing is when you break down against Duke, especially this Duke team, they make you pay,” Albany coach Will Brown said. “They have so many guys that can put the ball in the basket.
“They play the game the right way, they play with a purpose and they’re all very unselfish. I just wish they were a little kinder to us tonight.”