DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Mike Krzyzewski settled in at the podium between his two veteran guards, gesturing first toward Nolan Smith and then toward Jon Scheyer.
“I know these guys are happy to be together again,” Coach K said.
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Especially when things click like this.
Smith scored a career-high 24 points in his return to the lineup, Scheyer added 20 and the ninth-ranked Blue Devils routed Charlotte 101-59 on Tuesday night in the second round of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Kyle Singler finished with 17 points for the Blue Devils (3-0) — who never trailed, hit 12 3-pointers and shot 52.9 percent in advancing to next week’s semifinal matchup at Madison Square Garden against the TCU-Arizona State winner.
Duke went up by double figures to stay before Charlotte hit its first field goal, and its top three scorers combined for 61 points — two more than the entire 49ers’ roster.
“Those three guys on the perimeter don’t need a bucket to get them going — they are ready to go, and they’re really good basketball players,” Krzyzewski said. “The three of them, 61 points, that’s a pretty good night.”
Shamari Spears had 20 points to lead the overmatched 49ers (2-1). Sloppy play and 33.9 percent shooting kept them from their first 3-0 start since 1995 and denied them a second straight victory against a ranked opponent dating to last season’s win against then-No. 17 Xavier. They had 17 turnovers — 12 in the first half, when this one was decided.
Charlotte was expected to provide some measure of resistance for the Blue Devils, who were short-handed during their first two games due to forward Mason Plumlee’s broken left wrist and Smith’s two-game suspension yet routed North Carolina-Greensboro and Coastal Carolina by an average of nearly 30 points.
But with Smith back in the lineup after sitting out for playing in an unsanctioned summer league, Duke had little trouble claiming its NCAA-record 71st straight nonconference victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium and 31st consecutive home win against an unranked opponent. The Blue Devils, three-time champions of the preseason NIT, improved to 20-2 in the event.
“(Smith) changes the dynamic of their team,” Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. “They weren’t pushing the ball nearly as much (without him). We knew they would, and had we had days of preparation, we probably would have slowed the game down, but we’re not built that way. … We wanted to pick our spots, but they almost wouldn’t allow that to happen.”
If Smith wasn’t determined to make up for lost time, it sure seemed that way. He reeled off eight quick points in just more than 3 minutes, surpassed his previous best — a 21-point outing at Wake Forest two seasons ago as a freshman — roughly 8 minutes into the second half and finished 9 for 15.
“When I’m in the game, the coaches want us to look to push tempo and be aggressive, getting into the paint and making plays for myself and for others,” Smith said. “That’s what I went out there and did.”
Meanwhile, Charlotte’s offense at times resembled a one-man show. Spears, a transfer from Boston College who was no stranger to the Cameron Crazies, had his second straight 20-point performance as a 49er. But none of his teammates had more than six points — a big reason why Charlotte was denied its first victory against a top 10 team since 2004.
Miles Plumlee added 15 points and 11 rebounds and Brian Zoubek added 13 boards for the Blue Devils, who made the first half look like one 20-minute-long burst of dominance.
They went up 14-2 before the 49ers’ first basket — Rashad Coleman hit a layup roughly 3 minutes in — as part of the 20-6 burst they used to begin the game. By the midpoint of the half, they were up by 20 on Scheyer’s 3-pointer in transition, and pushed the lead to 30 on Singler’s finger-roll with 3 minutes before the break.
The only negative in the first half for Duke would wind up being wiped out by a scoring change: Scheyer originally was charged with his only turnover of the season in 103 minutes. After a postgame review, that giveaway instead went to Smith.
“They really imposed their will on us tonight from the start,” Lutz said.