Duke faces Evansville in final non-league test

DURHAM, N.C. — Duke’s 13th game of the season comes Wednesday night and it will be different than all the others to date.

The Blue Devils no longer hold the country’s top ranking.

No. 4 Duke has had more than a week to stew about its lone loss, so the arrival of Evansville for the nonconference game at Cameron Indoor Stadium is probably a nice relief for the Blue Devils, who’ve completed final exams.

“We said (before the Boston College game) and while we were winning those 11 games, there’s a lot of work to do,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “… We played our butts off in order to win those 11 games, but it doesn’t mean that we’re some finished product. We’re a young team that needs to keep learning, keep working.”

Duke (11-1) hasn’t played since an 89-84 loss at Boston College on Dec. 9 to open Atlantic Coast Conference play.

Senior guard Grayson Allen said he hopes the freshmen have an understanding of the rigors of conference play. The matchup with Evansville is the only game for Duke before it heads back into the ACC slate.

“If we show up like we did and don’t play defense, that’s what’s going to happen,” Allen said. “We’re going to get beat.”

Defense is something the Blue Devils have addressed.

“The thing is, we can’t give up 80,” Allen said. “We have to have some games where we win like 70-60, 60-50, something like that. It’s got to be a commitment on the defensive end from everybody.”

Evansville (10-2) has been considerably busier than Duke recently, playing on back-to-back days last weekend at home. The results were a 78-74 overtime victory against Austin Peay before Sunday’s 79-52 ripping of Midway.

The Aces are 5-0 this month, with two of the victories coming against non-NCAA Division I members (Oakland City and Midway).

However, Evansville moved to No. 1 nationally in one department in a 91-76 road victory Dec. 5 at Bowling Green, where the Aces made 12 of 15 shots from 3-point range. That 80-percent success is the top single-game mark in the country this season. The Aces lead the country for the season at 49.4 percent on 3s.

Evansville had three games decided by five points or fewer in November, but there have been only two single-digit margins this month. The overtime triumph Saturday was a nice boost.

“We showed that anyone can step up as long as we compete, play hard and listen to what the coaches say,” said K.J. Riley, a sophomore who a day later was in the starting lineup for the first time.

The success is nothing new to the Aces, who hold a 10-2 record for the third time in four seasons.

Evansville coach Marty Simmons said it has been good that the Aces can concentrate on basketball following exams. By the weekend, the Aces will play four games in an eight-day stretch.

This will be the first meeting between the teams. This marks the 10th time in the school’s Division I history that the Aces face a team ranked in the top five.

Duke will try to extend its nation-leading home-court winning streak in non-conference games to 139 in its final chance this season. Evansville also ranks in the top 10 under the category of non-league, home-court winning streaks, but the Aces are at 29.

Evansville, since becoming a Division I program in 1977, is 0-5 all-time in games played in the state of North Carolina.