DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Duke played so many games in the first two weeks of the season that coach Mike Krzyzewski's team had relatively little time to refine itself on the practice court. The seventh-ranked Blue Devils are starting to get that chance.
Freshman guard Austin Rivers scored 17 points to help Duke beat Colorado State 87-64 on Wednesday night, a successful return from a weeklong break following a lopsided loss at Ohio State.
Duke (8-1) had sprinted out of the gate with seven games in 13 days, including wins against Michigan and Kansas in the Maui Invitational. But after last week's 85-63 loss to the Buckeyes — their most lopsided loss of the past two-plus seasons — the Blue Devils returned to a steady week of practices intent on improving. To listen to the players, it was a welcome opportunity.
"I don't think people realize how big practice can be for a team," Rivers said. "Sometimes when you just go a long period of time without practice, you start to forget the fundamentals and the values that makes your team great. I'm not saying we did that, but I think practice reiterated them with our team."
Andre Dawkins added 15 points for the Blue Devils (8-1) before sitting out the second half with back spasms. Dawkins and Mason Plumlee helped the Blue Devils build a 17-point halftime margin, while Rivers scored 12 in the second half to keep Duke in control.
The Blue Devils shot 56 percent while limiting the outside looks for a team that came in shooting a national-best 46 percent from behind the arc. The Rams (5-4) shot 41 percent for the game and 4 for 11 from 3-point range.
"We knew they could shoot the ball coming in," Plumlee said. "I mean, Cameron is like a shooter's gym, so you can't let guys get loose."
Greg Smith scored 18 points to lead the Rams, but leading scorer Wes Eikmeier finished with 10 on 4-for-13 shooting. His last field goal came midway through the first half and he missed all six of his shots in the second half.
"They just kept switching guys on me and rotating fresh bodies in," said Eikmeier, who was averaging 17.5 points. "I don't think I sat in the first half, so I kind of got fatigued. They were denying me on the wings, and that's usually where I get a lot of my work done. Just give them credit. They did a nice job."
The Colorado State game was the first of just four on the schedule in December for Duke, which could lead to plenty more chances to improve on the practice court. As Krzyzewski noted, "The more practice this team can get, the better."
"We're still very much a developing team," he said. "We've got a very difficult schedule that'll continue through Washington (on Saturday in New York). That's how you learn about yourself. We have to keep adjusting."
Dawkins and Plumlee helped Duke push ahead early. Dawkins hit six of his first seven shots, including three 3-pointers, after going scoreless and managing just a single shot in 19 minutes against Ohio State. Plumlee, meanwhile, was active early, hitting all six of his shots in the half to rack up 13 points, seven rebounds, four steals and four blocks by halftime.
That included one play in which Plumlee stole a pass and sent the ball in transition to Dawkins, who lofted a soft alley-oop pass back to Plumlee for a dunk and a 41-30 lead. At that point, the two had 12 of Duke's 16 baskets.
Rivers took over in the second half, hitting all three of his 3-pointers. During one stretch, Duke scored on seven straight and nine of 10 possessions over 7 minutes.
Ryan Kelly scored three straight baskets during that run and Rivers hit a pair of 3s, while reserve Josh Hairston capped the run by charging in on the left side unguarded and throwing down a powerful slam to make it 72-47 with about 9 minutes left.
Miles Plumlee also finished with 14 points for Duke, which scored 18 points off 15 turnovers.
"They have a lot of depth," Smith said. "They ran a lot of guys at us, and they took advantage of us when we got tired. We turned the ball over way too much when we're playing an elite team like this, and they really capitalized on it."