Brooklyn got its first taste of college basketball in 2014-15, as Duke, Sanford, UNLV and Temple convened for the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic that tipped off Friday night at the Barclays Center.
As expected, heavy favorite Duke took the four team tournament title on the strength of their dynamic freshman class, with a lot of help from their veteran point guard Quinn Cook, who took home MVP honors.
Things started off tamely with the opening match-up featuring two teams that made the cross-country trip to the big city, but only one that seemed to truly show up.
Stanford and UNLV are a tale of two basketball teams that are in very different places. Johnny Dawkins’s squad is filled with experience and sprinkled with some young talent. The Runnin’ Rebels, on the other hand, rely almost exclusively on young players with potential, but have little in the experience category.
It also helps when experience is accompanied by talent. That’s the case with this year’s Stanford team.
Paced by senior guards Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown (18 points apiece), the Cardinal obliterated UNLV from start to finish in front of a sparse Brooklyn crowd, which made the angry protests from the Rebel faithful all the more ascertainable. After rolling to a 52-29 halftime lead, Stanford cruised to a 89-60 victory.
As the score suggests, life was not so pleasant for the UNLV youngsters. They were led by long, athletic sophomore forward, Christian Wood, who provided 11 points and was really their only difference maker on the court. Highly regarded freshman, Rashad Vaughn, struggled, finishing with just 7 points on 2-9 shooting.
By the time Jahlil Okafor won the opening tip of the semifinal nightcap between Duke and Temple, Barclays Center was a lot more full and a lot more lively. Duke fans did their best to pack the arena with help from Owl fans from nearby Philadelphia. Fans wearing blue left happy, as Duke prevailed 74-54.
Unlike UNLV, Temple put up a fight against the highly favored Blue Devils. The Owl frontline played tough and provided Okafor with his biggest physical test to date. The star freshman struggled offensively in the first half, failing to finish around the rim through contact.
Okafor proved to be a quick learner. He was much more assertive and effective in the second half and finished with 16 points and 8 rebounds on 7-20 shooting. Okafor’s second half play spearheaded a 21-8 decisive run that put the game out of reach with just under 10 minutes to play.
Prior to that run, Temple kept within shouting distance on the back of strong guard play from senior Will Cummings (18 points) and Josh Brown (11 points).
More help was needed, however.
Duke came in droves, often with line-change substitutions reminiscent of John Calipari’s “platoon” system. The Blue Devils pressured Temple full court for most of the game, forcing Cummings into an uncharacteristic 8 turnovers.
Cook led the Blue Devils with 17 points. Freshman, Justise Winslow added 15 and Amile Jefferson contributed 8 points and 8 rebounds.
The championship game not only set up a match-up between two good teams with March aspirations, it also pit Mike Krzyzewski against his former pupil, Johnny Dawkins, for the first time.
Both men expressed trepidation about the encounter based on a 30-plus year relationship that the two described as familial.
For Stanford, who needs enemies when you have family like that.
As was the case the previous night, Duke set the tone with defensive pressure on the opposing team’s perimeter players. That and the continued impressive play of the freshman, Winslow, propelled the Blue Devils to a 40-29 halftime lead.
In the second half, Stanford played with more composure and hung tough, led by Randle (22 points). But Duke has a plethora of talented freshmen.
Again, the second half belonged to Okafor.
On his way to a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds), Okafor made sure Stanford never truly got into the game. He rewarded Duke’s determination to run the offense through him with three key second half baskets and was the consummate rim protector on the defensive end.
Cook was very good for the second straight night (18 points, 5 assists) and Winslow finished with 14 points and 9 rebounds.
It is clear to anyone who watched this tournament that Duke is primed to make another run at a National Title. They are deep, long and athletic, and their freshmen are poised beyond their years.
Expect Stanford to be a major factor in the Pac 12 as well.
In the consolation game, UNLV defeated Temple, 57-50. Wood led the Rebels with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Cummings paced the Owls with 21 points.