It took about 27 minutes for Duke to firmly gain control but they were able to pull away and outlast Tennessee State for a 65-55 win on Monday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The No. 5 Blue Devils (11-1) only led 27-23 at the half before sophomore Luke Kennard (24 points) got hot and the Duke defense took control.
Monday night’s win over a feisty Tennessee State (8-3) team is nice but the bigger news is the college debut of five-star forward Harry Giles. Giles went down with a torn ACL during the first game of his senior year of high school and hasn’t played an organized game since then so it was a big moment for him to take the floor in a competitive setting.
Giles looked a bit nervous and played four minutes in the first half, firing a face-up elbow jumper on his first touch and not doing much from there. He’ll likely be brought along slowly in the Duke rotation since Coach K has so many different weapons at his disposal in the frontcourt.
In other words, be patient, Duke fans.
“It’s just a matter of him being in shape. He hasn’t played in 14 months,” Coach K said of Giles. “And then he has to fit in. And he will, but it can’t be about him. It has to be about Duke. Just fit in.”
The other issue on Monday night? Duke played horribly for the first 30 minutes, finding themselves down 36-34 to Tennessee State midway through the second half. There was a legitimate chance that the Blue Devils, who appeared to forget that they had a game, could lose. The hope in playing Giles in these two games as that Duke would be able to get him acclimated and assimilated into the team by the time conference play starts, but that’s not an easy thing to do against a team that tried to muck things up defensively and took Duke out of what they wanted to do.
“It was up and down, trying to figure it out, trying to get used to the speed,” Giles said. “It was fast, too, but it was fun being out there trying to figure it out.”
“It was frustrating because of how it went, but I’m not even worried about that. I’m thankful to be able to walk off the court healthy and playing again.”
Duke plays again Wednesday. If that ends up being an easy win for Duke, I’d expect to see a lot more out of Giles then.
Jayson Tatum had 14 points and nine rebounds for Duke while Grayson Allen added 12 points.
Darreon Reddick and Tahjere McCall paced the Tigers with 14 points each. Tennessee State couldn’t hang with one of the deepest teams in the country for 40 minutes but they have taken N.C. State to overtime and should be a major factor in the Ohio Valley Conference race.