Contributed By: Chris McKee (Twitter: @mrmckee)
TORONTO - For the first time in school history, the Duke Blue Devils headed north of the border to Canada to play the Ryerson Rams of Ontario University Athletics (OUA); the first in a trio of games against U SPORTS opponents.
On paper, Duke's opening game against Ryerson at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga, ON appeared to be a tale of David vs. Goliath.
The Blue Devils rolled into town with a host of five-star recruits, McDonald's All-Americans, and future NBA draft picks to play a Ryerson squad that, while being crowned OUA champions two of the past three years and runners up for a national championship this past season, simply did not have the same level of fire-power up and down their roster.
The packed house in Mississauga was predominantly in support of the visiting Blue Devils, with a sea of blue and white Duke jerseys filling the arena. The Rams, however, didn't look to be intimidated by the highly touted NBA prospects on the opposite end of the floor and the ESPN camera crews and broadcasters eyeing their every move.
Ryerson's 7-foot-2 centre Tanor Ngom woke up the crowd with an electrifying dunk early in the first quarter which seemed to sway the fan support in favour of the Rams in the early going. The Rams continued their strong play in the opening frame, surprising the crowd with a 17-15 lead at the end of the first quarter of play.
17-15 Ryerson over Duke(!) after 1Q ... Ryerson executing at a higher level. Barrett and rest of Blue Devils struggling, although RJ did have an impressive And-1 in transition.— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) August 15, 2018
However, it was Mississauga-born RJ Barrett, playing in his first career game in a Duke Blue Devils jersey, that electrified the hometown crowd and settled things down for the Dukies with several big dunks that got the fans on their feet. Barrett ended the first half of play with 16 points on five-of-13 shooting, but it was his teammate Zion Williamson that was the star of the first half and led all players with 21 points on nine-of-15 from the field.
At the half, legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski seemed to settle his team down in the locker room and the Blue Devils came out firing on all cylinders to open up a sizeable 17-point cushion at the end of the third quarter, 65-48.
It was all Barrett and Williamson for Duke in the first-half but their teammates started to chip in with points in the third quarter and the slew of offensive weapons appeared to be too much for the Rams down the stretch. Australian Jack White drained a few key buckets for Duke while 6-foot-10 forward Javin DuLaurier was dominant in the paint on both ends of the NCAA juggernauts.
Ryerson simply wasn't having much luck in the second half taking the ball to the basket against the much bigger and physical Blue Devils squad, while their opponents had no such problem.
Midway through the fourth quarter Zion Williamson electrified the crowd with one of his several highlight reel dunks showing the Canadian crowd exactly why he has racked up millions of views on YouTube as a high-schooler.
Duke ended up creating separation from Ryerson in the fourth quarter and won the game 86-67. Barrett was the high scorer finishing with 34 points while JV Mukama led the Rams with 12 points.
Canadian R.J. Barrett impresses with game-high 34 points in debut to lead #Duke past #Ryerson 86-67 in Mississauga, ON. Duke's Canadian tour continues Friday against the University of Toronto on TSN. https://t.co/dxXLxKhmI0 pic.twitter.com/aIOFDARWmo— SportsCentre (@SportsCentre) August 16, 2018
9th year Ryerson head coach Roy Rana said he was a little disappointed that his team didn't compete against Duke for the full four quarters the way they did in the first half, but that he was pleased at the experience and the spotlight this was able to shine on Canadian University basketball.
Said Rana, "It's just a real celebration of our program to get a chance to play in front of a sold out crowd and I thought we showed well."
Regardless of the outcome of the game, the Ryerson Rams put on a respectable showing and can hold their heads high that they were able to compete with one of the most dominant programs in the history of college basketball.