RJ Barrett had Duke’s first triple-double in 13 years, as Duke win 94-78

RJ Barrett always seems to do it all for Duke. This time, it showed up on the stat sheet.

The freshman had the program’s first triple-double in 13 years, finishing with 23 points, 11 rebounds and a season-high 10 assists in the Blue Devils’ 94-78 victory over North Carolina State on Saturday night.

Zion Williamson scored 32 points on 12-of-16 shooting and Tre Jones added 13 to help the Blue Devils (23-2, 11-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) win their ninth consecutive.

“My teammates were obviously finishing, and it was great to play with them, especially Zion at the end, just grabbing everything, finishing everything,” Barrett said.

Barrett became the fourth Duke player with a triple-double and the first since Shelden Williams in January 2006. He completed it in the final minute, hitting Williamson for a layup that put Duke up 90-74.

“I wouldn’t say satisfying, but I’m glad I could help because he is my brother,” Williamson said with a smile. “If it was anybody, I’m glad it was me.”

Duke overcame 19 percent shooting from three-point range by building a 44-26 rebounding advantage and scoring 22 points off N.C. State’s 12 turnovers.

Markell Johnson had 16 points and 10 assists, Torin Dorn scored 17 points and C.J. Bryce added 13 points for the Wolfpack (18-8, 6-7), who had their two-game winning streak snapped.

Barrett did everything for Duke except turn the ball over, as this was his first game with zero turnovers. “I’ve been having so many turnovers lately, so I’m really happy for that,” he said. He’d flirted with triple-doubles twice before, finishing three assists shy of one against Stetson in December and was one assist short of one last month in the home loss to Syracuse.

The Blue Devils came in having lost their last three matchups against NC State. But early on it was clear that, while the Wolfpack fought admirably from being blown out, Duke was the superior team. The eventual 94-78 outcome was never in question. It was expected that Duke was going to win, and indeed it did.

The same feeling fans got watching NC State and Duke battle it out on Saturday is the same you get measuring Duke’s national title prospects. Twenty-five games into its season, Duke’s deck is absurdly stacked. It has Zion Williamson, the NCAA’s best player, who scored 32 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. It has RJ Barrett, a likely top-five NBA Draft pick who notched Duke’s first triple-double since Shelden Williams in 2006. And oh, by the way, Duke also has the NCAA’s best coach in Mike Krzyzewski, and — oh! — another projected top 5 pick in Cam Reddish.

All the more stunning is that the Blue Devils are among the worst 3-point shooting teams in the ACC; they missed 13 of their 16 attempts against NC State. And yet they still rolled by 16 against an NCAA Tournament quality club.

Inevitable seems pretty fitting a descriptor, no? Who is beating this team in March? Or April?

Now, Duke isn’t totally indestructible. Gonzaga cracked the code in Maui, winning 89-87 in late-November. Syracuse did the same in mid-January (albeit with sturdy point guard Tre Jones out due to injury) in a 95-91 OT win. But thus far, there’s no one that is in Duke’s stratosphere. The Blue Devils are breathing their own pure, rarefied air. They’re second in total scoring margin across the NCAA, second only to — you guessed it — Gonzaga; the Bulldogs also have the benefit of whooping up on everyone in the WCC, an enjoyment Duke cannot share in the ACC.

Tennessee, Gonzaga, Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina can all win it all, to be clear. For as good as Duke is, there are bonafide contenders elsewhere — and a single-elimination NCAA Tournament gives opportunities for Duke to falter and other challengers to rise. But let’s not kid ourselves here: Duke is the best team in the country. The creme de la creme. With its talent, momentum, coaching and construct, it would take a monumental upset to see it bow out early in March Madness.

Peace,

Burke.

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