DURHAM, N.C. (AP)—Mike Krzyzewski wanted a pre-tournament test for his Duke players. For perhaps longer than expected, they got one.
But ultimately, the fifth-ranked Blue Devils—and their “Big Three,” plus one—was too much for Tulsa, pulling away for a 70-52 victory Thursday night.
Nolan Smith scored 18 points, Kyle Singler added 17 and Jon Scheyer finished with 15 points for the Blue Devils (24-4).
They used a big run early in the second half to break open a surprisingly tight game and extend their decade-long nonconference winning streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium to 77 by winning an out-of-the-ACC matchup designed to prepare the Blue Devils for the unfamiliar but high-quality foes that figure to lurk in the NCAA tournament bracket.
“We’ve got to keep getting better, and you don’t get better by taking time off,” Krzyzewski said. “Right now, you’ve got to keep working, and we knew that this game would put us in that position.”
Jerome Jordan had 12 points to lead the Golden Hurricane (19-9). In losing their fourth straight, they finished with a season-low point total and were denied their first victory against a top-five team since 1996. Leading scorer Ben Uzoh, who entered on a streak of three straight 20-point games, finished with eight on 3-of-15 shooting while being hounded primarily by Smith.
“You knew they would be prepared for Ben, for the most part,” Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik said. “He competed, missed a couple shots on the break. In our league, he probably gets a few more trips to the free-throw line, but it’s good for him.”
Brian Zoubek, a 7-foot-1 senior, has stepped out of the shadow of the Scheyer-Smith-Singler trio lately to become one of the most valuable players for the Atlantic Coast Conference leaders. He finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds, and started the game-breaking 18-3 run with a layup through the 7-foot Jordan’s foul with 19:05 remaining.
“He isn’t the athlete Jordan is, but (Zoubek) is strong,” Krzyzewski said of the dueling 7-footers. “I was just happy that he held his own against Jordan. … No one won that matchup, but we didn’t lose it, so that was kind of a win for us.”
Smith then reeled off six straight points and Scheyer scored eight in a row before Miles Plumlee hit a hook shot to make it 52-37 with 13 1/2 minutes left.
That had the Blue Devils well on their way to their 18th straight win at Cameron. They have won 41 straight at home against unranked opponents, they are 16-0 there this season with all but one of those victories by double figures, and Friday makes it 10 years since St. John’s became the last non-ACC team to beat them on their home court.
Justin Hurtt added 11 points for the Golden Hurricane and tied it at 34 with a free throw with 19:20 to play, but they missed 6 of 7 shots after that while turning it over three times during Duke’s decisive spurt.
Steven Idlet had 10 points for Tulsa, which finished 1 of 10 from 3-point range and shot 26 percent from the field during the second half.
“I thought we had some shots inside that we just didn’t convert,” Wojcik said. “But I’m just really proud of my team. I’m glad to have played the game and have the experience. We’re going to get better from this.”
Lance Thomas had 10 rebounds while his post partner Zoubek reached double figures for the third time in four games.
“I think that everybody has a lot more confidence in me right now— offensively, defensively and all over the court,” Zoubek said.
The Golden Hurricane kept themselves within striking distance through the first half, never allowing Duke to lead by more than 10 points and clawing back to tie it at 28 on Bryson Pope’s layup 3 minutes before the break. That, despite a miserable start to the half by their top player: Uzoh missed eight of his first 10 shots.
“He’s a very good player, and I was ready for the task tonight,” Smith said. “Going forward, (in the) NCAA tournament, we’re going to run into a lot of good guards and that’s why I know this game … really simulated the NCAA tournament games. Playing a guard like him, you’ve got to be ready.”
Wojcik was no stranger to Duke’s hostile arena: He was on Matt Doherty’s staff at rival North Carolina from 2000-03, and those teams went 1-2 at Cameron. But ultimately, that familiarity couldn’t help the Golden Hurricane claim the program’s third victory against a top-five team and first since knocking off then-No. 5 UCLA in 1996.