DURHAM, N.C. — Twenty minutes after his 11th-ranked Blue Devils defeated Georgia Southern by 24 points, legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had plenty of compliments for the Eagles.
“We played a really good team tonight,” Krzyzewski said. “They were well-prepared. They really execute well. Their kids aren’t selfish, and they have good ball-handlers. It’s tough to pressure them.”
The Eagles (1-1) hung with the Blue Devils (2-0) for the first half here Sunday before Duke’s stifling defense suffocated Georgia Southern in the final 20 minutes and lifted the Devils to a 72-48 victory in the second round of the College Basketball Experience Classic.
“I thought we played hard for the most part,” GSU coach Jeff Price said. “I’m very disappointed in the margin (of defeat) more than anything. I don’t think the final score is indicative of the game.”
Point guard Dwayne Foreman paced the Eagles and tied his career best with a game-high 18 points, but the junior struggled to get loose after Duke adjusted defenders and assigned DeMarcus Nelson to contain him.
“Defensively (Nelson) covered (Donte Gennie) pretty well, then when we were having trouble with the point, we put him on (Foreman). I tried to put him on three guys at one time,” Krzyzewski said. “(Nelson) is just a good defensive player. He should be tired tonight.”
Foreman, the lone Eagle in double figures - wasn’t rattled by the crowd of 9,314 and the ruthless Cameron Crazies.
“Playing here is basically the same thing as playing at Charleston, but it’s just a bigger atmosphere and one of the best arenas to play in in the country,” Foreman said.
Duke led 38-32 at the half — its largest advantage of the first 20 minutes — thanks to a Nelson 3-pointer as time expired. The Blue Devils carried that momentum into the second half when Duke scored two quick baskets and then used a 16-4 run to stretch its advantage to 58-40 with 9:49 to play.
The Eagles were outscored 34-16 in the second half when GSU hit just 21.2 percent of its field goals (7 of 33), 16.7 percent (1 of 6) of its 3s and 12.5 percent (1 of 8) from the free-throw line.
“This is a place where you have to have tremendous poise, and I thought for a spell there in the second half we lost our poise and got mentally weak,” Price said. “I thought it really affected the game and allowed them to go on a run.”
Georgia Southern started strong and led for the first 12:53 of the game before the Eagles were held scoreless for 4:34. During that span, Duke’s Josh McRoberts — affectionately named “McNasty” by the Crazies — hit a layup to tie the game at 18-18 7:42 before the break. The lead changed 10 times and the game was tied four times from that point on, but GSU was held to just one field goal in the final 5:21 of the first half, a layup by Matt Fields.
The Eagles had three fewer turnovers than the Blue Devils, but Duke made the most of GSU’s miscues, scoring 23 points off turnovers while the Eagles managed just eight.
“We came out in the first half with great intensity,” Foreman said. “In the second half, we just had too many let downs that they just took advantage of to pull away from us.”
The Blue Devils had four players reach double figures led by McRoberts and Nelson with 16 points each, while Gerald Henderson added 13 and Jon Scheyer scored 11.
“I don’t think we had as much energy as we did yesterday, and I think a lot of that had to do with how Georgia Southern played,” Krzyzewski said. “They take the energy out of you. You can’t get the ball away from them, and they’re executing. They did really well pressure-wise. The first 16 minutes of the game, I just thought they were excellent offensively.”
The Eagles’ largest lead was six, an advantage they held twice in the first half, once after a Diogo Salazar 3 put GSU up 15-9 and again when Foreman sank a 3 as the shot clock expired 11:31 before halftime.
But the Eagles couldn’t do anything about the discrepancy at the foul line — Duke had 32 free throw attempts to Georgia Southern’s 14. In the first half alone, the Blue Devils went to the line 25 times while GSU went only six.
The Eagles resume play Friday when they travel to Illinois for an 8 p.m. game. Duke hosts Southern Conference member UNC Greensboro Thursday at 7 p.m.
Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.