Duke basketball travels to China on ‘Friendship’ trip

By Taylor Doherty

Duke basketball travels to China on ‘Friendship’ trip

SHANGHAI, CHINA — Kofi Annan, the famed former Secretary General of the United Nations, once said in an address that “sport is a universal language.” Head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his team are putting that assertion to the test as they get a taste of basketball halfway around the world in China, some 7,600 miles from Durham.

Despite the challenges of a different rulebook and a grueling travel schedule, the Blue Devils have nonetheless come away with two wins over the Chinese junior national team this week.

Duke opened the Friendship Games with a 77-64 win on Wednesday night in Kunshan, a Shanghai suburb that will be home to the University’s new Chinese campus. The next night, Duke picked up where it left off, with a 78-66 victory in the first basketball game ever played in Shanghai’s new Mercedes-Benz Arena.

Junior forward Ryan Kelly showed off a much-improved game as the star of both contests, with 14 points plus 13 rebounds in Kunshan and 20 points and eight rebounds in Shanghai.

“The way the game was going, it was really intense,” Kelly said on Thursday. “Everyone was playing really hard, and every basket was a big basket. I was just really excited, you know, every shot I hit was helping our team…. When we see each other getting excited about big plays, it helps everyone on the floor.”

Junior guard Seth Curry, who handled bulk of the point guard duties, said after the Shanghai game that he noticed Kelly’s confidence peak during the second half and made an extra effort to get him the ball.

“He’s just being really aggressive and playing with confidence,” Curry, who scored 15 points of his own on 6-of-17 shooting, said. “He’s knocking down shots, and that’s helping his all-around game…. He can be a big guy on this team, that can take a big time role.”

Kelly’s efficient 9-for-11 shooting performance led the way as the team shot 60 percent from inside the arc and added nine makes in 27 tries from long range. The quality shooting performance helped Duke coast to victory despite a tightly contested first half. Duke led by just six at halftime, but China went on a run at the beginning of the second half to cut the deficit to two.

After struggling in the first half to contain Chinese big men Li Muhae and Wang Zhelin around the rim, Miles Plumlee recovered to record 14 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Between China’s 20 turnovers and poor shooting from the charity stripe—56-percent shooting on 32 attempts—the Blue Devils were able to close the game and extend the lead back to 12 by the final buzzer.

The poor free-throw performance by the Chinese is especially striking, since the hosts have attempted significantly more free throws than their guests. In two games, the Chinese have attempted 72 total free throws, 44 more than the Blue Devils.

Both winning efforts were keyed overwhelmingly by the starters—Kelly, Curry, freshman guard Austin Rivers, junior guard Andre Dawkins and senior forward Miles Plumlee—who accounted for 83 percent of the scoring in Kunshan and a remarkable 95 percent in Shanghai.

Many eyes have fallen upon the heralded rookie Rivers, but after scoring 18 points in his first game in a Duke uniform, Rivers struggled Thursday. The talented freshman scored 12 points on just 5-of-16 shooting, and turned the ball over seven times, sliding on the new arena’s slippery floor several times. Rivers tweaked his ankle, leaving the game for a short time during the first half. After a brief examination by Duke athletics personnel, though, he re-entered the game and showed no further signs of injury.

“He’s still only 18 years old, but he has the poise, the toughness, which will make him a star,” Krzyzewski said. “These competitions are great for him to grow.”

Both Miles Plumlee and Dawkins showed significant improvement over last season in Thursday’s game. Plumlee sported several new moves in the post, leading to 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and a team-high nine rebounds. Dawkins, though he eventually fouled out, appeared more comfortable taking shots from inside the arc, scoring 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting.

“This is a great trip for us,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who later added that he thought both teams played better in Shanghai than in Kunshan. “We could not play against a better team than the team we’re playing against because their players are well-schooled, they’re big, they play hard together, and they work very well…on offense.”

Duke takes its 2-0 edge in the Friendship Games into Monday’s rematch at the MasterCard Center in Beijing. After its final contest in China, Duke will travel to Dubai for a final game against the United Arab Emirates national team.

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